Practising Discernment & Why It Helps

We are navigating a time in human history when we must face issues that we’ve never encountered before. This means that many problems can no longer be solved with old solutions. So it’s not surprising that we frequently don’t know what to do—or how to do it.

That’s when discernment is invaluable. It helps us navigate with confidence in unfamiliar situations and step up to do what must be done, even when it’s hard.

The lost skill of discernment…

Discernment is about thinking for ourselves so we can make the most appropriate choices in any situation. It’s a skill that improves with practice.

The downside is that discernment takes effort on our part. It’s so much easier to default to ready-made solutions, and so our “discernment muscle” has atrophied to the point where I suspect many people don’t know what discernment is.

So what is discernment?

Discernment is the ability to grasp and comprehend what is obscure. Discernment enables us to understand the subtleties of difficult situations and make wise decisions.

Understanding the subtleties requires keen insight, challenging us to go beyond superficial perception. Insight is the capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or situation. It implies the discovery of something you didn’t already know.

Discernment facilitates good judgement. Judgement is the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions. It implies sense tempered and refined by experience, training, maturity, and inner knowing.

When you don’t know what to do…

When you don’t know what to do, don’t take it personally. There is nothing wrong with you. Remember that you’re having to make decisions in unexpected and sometimes unthinkable circumstances. So how could you automatically know the best choice when you don’t have the benefit of previous experience?

In unknown situations, the easiest thing is to default to the opinions of experts. It can be such a relief to adopt a ready-made decision. And in some cases, you might get lucky and it will work for you. 

On the other hand though, ready-made decisions may not work out as you had hoped. That’s because they don’t take you into account as part of the equation.

Work toward a fitting solution…

It’s worth noting that:

  • discernment helps you make appropriate choices. The word “appropriate” sometimes gets misinterpreted as “proper” but the more nuanced and accurate meaning is “suitable or fitting.” It comes from the Latin appropriare, which means to make something fit, to make something one’s own.
  • you are part of the equation. When practising discernment, it is necessary to check possible solutions to see if they align with what you consider important. This involves your body/mind rather than just the brain. It may be a heartfelt sense or a gut feeling but, either way, you will simply know when you’ve arrived at the decision that sits well with you. Some people describe it as a feeling of everything being in alignment.

Why discernment helps…

Discernment moves us from reacting to responding. It occurs in the pause between a happening and your action.

The distinction between reacting and responding is well-described in an article by the folks at The Growth Equation.

When unexpected events occur…most people go down one of two roads. They either respond or react.

Responding, a spin-off from the word responsibility, is considerate and deliberate. Responses tend to go like this: Something happens. You pause. You process. You plan. Then you proceed.

Reacting, on the other hand, literally means to meet one action with another one. It is immediate and rash. Reactions tend to go like this: Something happens. You panic. Then you proceed.

This framework may be helpful…

Something happens.

  1. Take a breath, or otherwise bring yourself back to centre.
  2. Buy yourself some time, e.g. “I’ll get back to you tomorrow on that.”
  3. Practice discernment…
  • Consider options for action, which could include no-action.
  • Explore inwardly, both  your values and your perspective about what is important in the situation.
  • Assess the alignment of options with your wise inner self.
  • Observe the clarity you experience when an option is in alignment with you. It may be a visceral feeling of  ‘That’s it!’  You may feel a lightness rather than heaviness. You may just know, beyond question. You may have a strong sense that How could one do otherwise?” We each have our own signature way of recognizing this clarity. Trust yours.
  • Respond accordingly, with confidence that your decision has been made from the fullness of your being and with due consideration.

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