A Simple Trick to Improve Your Discernment

This maxim is used in religious and secular circles alike to encourage us to discern wisdom from unhelpful information.

Posted in , Dec 14, 2018

Finding useful information

By the time I learned that the phrase, “Eat the meat, spit out the bones” is often used in a Christian context, I had heard it many times in all sorts of places. To me, it is a succinct and vivid way to imagine cultivating a discerning mind, the skill of being able to take in a lot of information but only hold onto that which is valuable and nourishing to the mind, body and spirit.

I once had a doctor who answered a question I had by saying, “Well, that would give us information, but it would not give us useful information.” He was right—more is not always better when it comes to educating oneself about complicated topics like a health diagnosis, or stressful communications like unsolicited advice on caregiving, parenting or career choices.

In the information age, how can we tell meat from bone? Here are three principles that guide me.

1)  Consider the Source

Oh, Dr. Google—you should be sued for malpractice. When it comes to online health research, there is so much information out there—some of it anecdotal, some of it unscientific and some of it useful—as to be almost dangerous. Browse and click if you must, but before you run with a suggestion you’ve read online, put it to the “meat/bones” test and ask yourself if it is credible, helpful and applicable to your particular situation.

2)  Remember, Some Things Are Both Meat and Bone

When it comes to a challenging family relationship, for example, there are likely to be things that you need to let go of as soon as they’re said (or repeated, as the case may be). Spit out those negative, critical or toxic bones without hesitation. But then look at what’s left—probably lots of meaty love between the two of you. Use your energy to try to focus your interactions on the positive aspects of what connects you.

3)  Get a Second Opinion

One way to feel confident in your discernment between “meat” and “bones” is to bounce your thinking off a trusted sounding board, whether that is a dear friend or family member, a counselor, or a medical doctor. A supportive listener can hear your reasoning and either bolster your conviction or point out something you hadn’t thought of that leads you to wisdom that might otherwise have been hidden to you. 

How do you “eat the meat, spit out the bones?”

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