“I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence;
I possess knowledge and discretion.
To fear the Lord is to hate evil;
I hate pride and arrogance,
evil behavior and perverse speech.
Counsel and sound judgment are mine;
I have insight, I have power.
- Proverbs 8:12-14
The fool says in his heart,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;
there is no one who does good.
The Lord looks down from heaven
on all mankind
to see if there are any who understand,
any who seek God.
All have turned away, all have become corrupt;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.
Do all these evildoers know nothing?
They devour my people as though eating bread;
they never call on the Lord.
But there they are, overwhelmed with dread,
for God is present in the company of the righteous.
You evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor,
but the Lord is their refuge.
Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
When the Lord restores his people,
let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!
- Psalm 14:1-7
Notice that both of these Scriptures talk about wisdom and knowledge. In the first, Proverbs talks about wisdom with knowledge, but it doesn’t work the other way around. You can say that all cows have four legs (maybe a few with a deformity, but in general). But you cannot say all four-legged creatures are cows. Thus, someone with great wisdom will seek knowledge and know how to use it. Yet, someone with great knowledge does not necessarily know how to use that knowledge. My wife and I knew a doctor. He was near the top of his class everywhere he went. Ask him a question? He could recite from any of his books. But this doctor could not diagnose the most common of diseases. He had no concept of how to utilize his knowledge to make wise decisions.
I think that a memory surfaced recently because our daughter-in-law cannot figure out the technique that is used in grading the answers on one of her online college classes. She is making a “B” after making an “A” when she was attending class. Not seeing the professor and hearing his thoughts face-to-face is hurting her grades a bit and it’s frustrating.
Somehow that caused me to remember an arrogant student, from way back. My daughter-in-law is quite humble. She’s just trying to figure out how the computer wants to see her typed answers, so that she can get credit for doing the problem correctly. But my arrogant student was taught one way of solving problems. When I saw that his answers were ‘off’ and that I would have to completely solve the problems in the same way that he did in order to see where he went wrong, I was sorely tempted to simply flunk him. He was such a pain in class. But this being an industrial course, management would take one of two approaches. The arrogant student would either retake the course, but it was obvious that he was so stubborn that he would never change his ways, or management would fire him for not measuring up to the prescribed standard. I didn’t want him to retake the course. I pulled my hair out with his antics and his better-than-thou attitude. If there was a measurement device to measure how arrogant a person was, his arrogance would blow the meter off the chart, breaking it. I doubted having enough patience to go through that again. And although he was a class A jerk, that shouldn’t get him fired.
So, I took the test, myself, doing it in the manner in which he took the test. Just one problem, my examination took four hours to complete – for the students. Okay, I didn’t have anything to do that Saturday while the boys watched their Saturday morning cartoons – other than to watch the cartoons with the boys. Yes, once upon a time, cartoons were rarely seen except for Saturday mornings.
You see, the arrogant student graduated from a university where, to graduate, you must take a course on ‘arrogance.’ Yes, they have those classes. Go to West Point, the US Military Academy has a course where all the cadets are taught that an education at any other institution is inferior to the education that you have just received here. But sadly when I was in the military, the only good academy officers that I worked for or with were the ones that forgot what they learned in that class. In talking about this ‘arrogance education class’ with others over the years, there are similar classes at Penn State and Georgia Tech. I am sure the list could go on. This guy was from one of the schools mentioned here.
There is a fine line of being proud of the education that you receive, confident that you have been prepared for that cruel world out there. But the line is so easily crossed when you believe that you really are pretty darned special to start with.
This young arrogant jerk had been taught that true scientists always used metric units when calculating anything, and for him that meant CGS units (Celsius, Grams, and Seconds). I was taught better than that. I was taught to use whatever you had, and especially what the boss (or teacher) wanted. Thus, I was taught British units, metric units (both CGS and SI), and the conversion from one to the other.
Why is this a problem? I was teaching young engineers to make calculations quickly. They were about to be certified as the “extra set of eyes” in the room. It was thought, in the aftermath of the Three-Mile Island incident, that you needed at least one additional person in the control room that was not assigned anything to do other than observe from a detached point of view, only stepping in when it seemed “tunnel-vision-thinking” was happening. The key was that they had to be free to think outside the box. They had to be flexible. Mr. Arrogant Jerk was the opposite of flexible. Throughout the course, not just in this one class, he had the knowledge and showed it, arrogantly, making no bones about being better than the others in the room. And some of the others were ivy leaguers, or people from Penn State, Wisconsin, Stanford, Duke, etc. He wasn’t the only smart one, just the one who was the loudest, and most arrogant. And all the while, his lack of flexibility showed a flaw in his character that he could not see.
As I mentioned, I was taught to use what you have, and the control room where these engineers would be working did that also, buying the low bid equipment every time. Thus, some temperatures were in Celsius – the ones they needed for this exercise. The flows were in gallons per minute. The convective heat transfer coefficient graphs were a mix, showing degrees Celsius on the ‘x’ axis and the coefficient in BTU per hour*square foot*Degree F on the ‘y’ axis. For those who are not familiar with the units that I have mentioned, they were a mixture of both systems and within the metric system, a blend of two different systems there, although not all is mentioned here.
I had autonomy as the designer/developer of the course, but I ran an idea past management. I invented something that I called “Plug and Play”. Yes, someone, later on, stole the idea and made millions, but instead of spending time converting over half the terms into a single measurement system, I created one constant that incorporated all the conversions. Thus, plug what they had into my formula, and they got the correct answer. The engineers would be taught how that constant was derived, so that they would have confidence in it. Then, they would not waste precious time doing unit conversions in a stress-packed disaster – their raison d’etre. Upper management applauded my boss for having some unknown person in his employ that was that smart, and off I went to design and develop the course.
See the problem? The arrogant jerk used Ergs, not BTUs, and then he had the audacity to get an answer that was about 10% off throughout the test. Was the guy smart? Yes, I had to admit that. He solved in four hours what I thought could not be solved in that timeframe by an engineer fresh out of college while converting everything to a single measurement system, but his numbers were wrong.
Now for those wanting to know what an erg is, it’s a unit of work. It is the amount of work done when a force is applied to one dyne so that it moves one centimeter. It is 10 to the minus 7th of a Joule.
Okay, to this old farm boy, with a master’s degree in engineering, but… A Joule is what the guys nicknamed their friend Julia, and an Erg is what Charlie Brown said when something bad happened. And as I did my calculations, while not getting paid, in the CGS system, using ergs, not the SI system that is more widely used, I said “Erg!” a lot. But I saw his oft-repeated mistake and only counted off once, rather than flunking him. And it only took me two hours, but then again, I was the professor who had written the textbook, and I knew which direction to go in the first place. My real motive was to show through scientific calculations that they could figure out what abnormality was happening beyond their ability to observe, by thinking outside the box. The correct answer was “almost” secondary.
As it turned out, the examination was designed to separate the men from the boys, so to speak, and we did have a couple of women in the class. A couple of guys asked for more time. Mr. Arrogant Jerk didn’t get the worst grade in the class, but he did get some words of advice. In a calm manner and with a smile, I sat down and explained his mistake and that if he had not been so stubborn, he might have seen it himself. I cautioned him against having such tunnel vision when his job, if he became certified, was to prevent tunnel vision. Odd, when he saw that his arrogance nearly caused him to flunk a major exam required for certification, he wasn’t so arrogant. He even thanked me for spending my Saturday morning to keep him from failing.
Even the humblest among us can be arrogant at times. Confidence is important, but there is always that temptation to cross the line. And whatever sacrifices that we make in life to help our fellow traveler on this earth, it pales in comparison to the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.