on being tacit and tactical…

Tacit knowledge is the kind of knowledge that is difficult to transfer to another person by means of writing it down or verbalizing it. The concept of “tacit knowledge” which resides in the master craftsman has an internal law of diminishing returns. This refers to all the knowledge he has acquired over the course of his marriage to his craft.

There will always be a much smaller level of benefit gained by the apprentice than what the craftsman holds. And there will always be a much higher level of energy invested by the craftsman to gain the insights that he desires to now share than the apprentice will presently appreciate. What this basically means can be summed up this way: “I know more than I can do, I do more than I can tell, and I can tell more than I can write.”

The concept of “tactical learning/stewardship” which resides with the apprentice is his or her joy of discovery, a life given to study, asking questions, clarifying statements and actions so that the apprentice can both learn and employ the skills of the master teacher which he or she has submitted themselves to. The apprentice immerses themselves into the environment of the workshop and focuses their full attention on the complete saturation of the master craftsman’s words and ways. They observe not just the actions but the attitudes and even ambitions of their instructor.

While I realize this word tactical is often used in military contexts and therefore has a great opportunity to sabotage the very concept I’m trying to express, I do find it extremely useful to think of it in terms of learning. The caution is to keep our thoughts and habits focused on harnessing the movements, methods and even mannerisms as I sit under the instruction of another for the purpose of not only acquiring the skills that they have but also to discover the joy and love for the domain in which the craftsman resides. I think of it as a way to stand at the crossroads and consider the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it and find rest for our souls. In this sense, there is an art that has been lost and we must follow the craftsman back into that domain and capture it again. For when these lost things have been retrieved they are useful and when leveraged properly make good things.

So the point of this post is that there is a trailhead where the tacit knowledge in the master craftsman and the tactical learning of the apprentice must converge in order for the relationship to harness all of the latent potential that is there. Therefore, to not properly understand these two realities means that some if not much of the opportunity will be left untapped.

Along the Appalachian Trail there is a jaunt that hikers can take to go out to Charlie's Bunion.  A unique lookout point here in the Smokies.
Along the Appalachian Trail there is a jaunt that hikers can take to go out to Charlie’s Bunion.
A very unique lookout point here in the Great Smoky Mountains.

This choice to head down this path must start with a deep sincere reverence for the Master Craftsman himself – not for what he has or can give but for him. The master craftsman has united himself to a domain through countless hours of study, affection, joy and practice because of his great love for that domain – a marriage if you will. We must have a deep respect for who he is – knowing that what we can see is only the tip of the iceberg of his tacit wisdom and understanding.  This trailhead points us down a path of learning that is essential. It requires a posture of walking humbly, loving mercy and doing justly. We must fight our natural human desire to make a name for ourselves – to be recognized for our accomplishments, to advertise ourselves – and instead apply ourselves fully to the stewardship of the domain to which we desire to be married.

It is in the identification of this trailhead that the apprentice discovers the path which must be taken in order to learn from the Master Craftsman. Precious few take this path, for it is far to narrow, and the way appears difficult – because it is. And we’re stuck with the reality that any who would take this path with us would surely be few. Most of us are naturally inclined to take the much broader, easier path that appears to have so many flocking to it – for it seems much more simple, straightforward and direct.

But be encouraged, learning from a Master Craftsman is an awe-inspiring revelation that brings about a steadfast anchor for your soul – but this reality of what it is, doesn’t mean that learning it is easy. Consider when Jesus was defining the kingdom of God to his followers and what it would look like to become a disciple and enter into that kingdom. He had to almost constantly speak in metaphors and parables. And his disciples struggled to understand why he was not speaking plainly to them in ways they could capture and apply easily. The realities of being a disciple (apprentice) of Christ (a Master Craftsman) is so beyond and heavenly and yet fully saturated with the earthy at the same time that .  We come to discover that we cannot love God without having a profound and deep love for our neighbor.  Likewise, we cannot love our neighbor without having a profound and deep love for God.

So we shouldn’t be too quick to assume that this path and posture of becoming a craftsman is like fitting together nicely shaped “legos” which the teacher lays out for us in order.  Don’t adopt a tactical style of learning that says knowledge requires that we see everything in this simple building blocks framework.  We are connected to dynamic living instructor.  We are seeking to operate in a living domain, with a living medium. 

For those who see Christ as the Master Craftsman of all domains and that His betrothed is a helper suitable for Him to engage the work fully and completely, apprenticeship is a very exciting endeavor. It is this process by which we wake up to the very nature of who we were created to be, and each of us uniquely – fearfully and wonderfully made. Therefore, we rest in the reality that we are with the one who has championed the love and joy of all domains.  And that He will lead us faithfully down a path that brings us to that place of full enjoyment and satisfaction which we now seek to learn and steward for His glory under His instruction.

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