We used to live in the great state of Nebraska. It’s a wonderful place with wonderful people. We loved our years there. The Platte River runs through Nebraska. Altogether, including tributaries, the river runs over 1,000 miles. We had the chance to visit a riverside cabin with some friends on one occasion and we went “boating” on the river. I put quotes around the word boating because you can’t boat on the Platte in the conventional way. It’s too shallow. We skimmed the surface of the river on an air boat. It was so fun, fast with quick turns, a great time. The Platte river reminds me of the saying, “A mile wide and an inch deep.”
Although the Platte is beautiful and we had a great time, the saying “A mile wide and an inch deep” is derogatory when talking about people. It means the person may know a little about a lot of things but they don’t know much about any one thing. Or it means their knowledge or intelligence is superficial, shallow.
Another saying about water that’s used of people is “Still water runs deep.” That sounds like something you’d rather have someone say about you, until you look up what that saying originally meant. “Quiet enemies are more dangerous than shallower, more visibly turbulent enemies, so beware.” It’s come to mean something more positive like “a person who seems quiet or shy may surprise you by knowing a lot or having strong feelings.” This whole water/people saying thing has me thinking about the relationship between being still or quiet and being deep.
There is also the saying, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” So, quietness alone is not the indicator of depth.
Shallow or Deep
A deep person is someone respected as having profound insight, knowledge, and wisdom while someone with superficial understanding who is gullible is considered shallow. If Gallup conducted a poll, I wonder how many people would say they wanted to be known as shallow. Among leaders, especially, I’m sure they would prefer to be known as deep.
The question is, can someone become deeper? The answer is yes. No one is born deep. Anyone who is respected for their insight and knowledge was once a kid in elementary school learning to read and write just like the rest of us. They grew deep over time. How? Here are three things we can do to grow deeper.
Ask Good Questions
Sir Francis Bacon said, “A prudent question is one-half of wisdom.” Looking at it from another angle, Charles P. Steinmetz once wrote, “No man really becomes a fool until he stops asking questions.” Good Questions are usually:
- Purposeful – you ask based on what you want to learn about the person or the subject, not random or trivial
- Open – they invite your conversation partner to talk rather that answer with a simple “yes” or “no.”
- Focused – they ask only one thing at a time
- Followed up – they begin in more general terms then become more specific to increase understanding
It doesn’t do any good to ask good questions if you don’t listen to the answers. Right? It is sometimes amazing how many people don’t get that.
It is said that LBJ had a plaque on his wall that read, “You ain’t learnin’ nothin’ when you’re talkin'” Putting the point a little more eloquently, the Dali Lama said, “When you talk you’re only repeating what you already know. But, if you listen, you may learn something new.”
Knowledge, wisdom, and insight come from learning. Learning happens when you listen. Feel free to check out a few previous posts on listening. Scroll down on that page to the category “Listening.”
Asking good questions and listening are only two of the essential steps to growing deeper. We should take the time to reflect on what we’ve heard/learned. Earlier I mentioned the still water and wondered about a connection between quietness and depth. Here it is. We should take time to be quiet and let things marinate in our minds.
One of the greatest leaders of all time, Jesus, apparently made a habit of getting alone. In John’s gospel he writes, “Jesus, … withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” What would we do if we followed that example? I’m sure Jesus prayed. That might not be a bad idea. He probably also reflected on the interactions of the day. We could take time to think about what we’ve learned, perhaps connecting the dots to other knowledge.
An important element of reflection is quietness. Sometimes just listening to the quiet allows the “back burner” of your mind to make connections and suggest insights or understanding to your conscious mind. These flashes of insight, as they’re sometimes called, can be very exciting and are the stuff of being deep.
With water, the depth causes the quietness. With people it’s the other way around. Quietness contributes to depth. It’s difficult to be quiet and still in our culture with all the electronic devices and social media. But it’s worth it. Try to schedule some daily time to ask questions, listen, and reflect in quietness. You’ll feel yourself go deeper.