The Counsel of Many

The following quotes are from The Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai (1700s):

And in large part we make our logic according to what we like. (p17)

People think that they can clear up profound matters if they consider them deeply, but they exercise perverse thoughts and come to no good because they do their reflecting with only self-interest at the center. (p18)

We learn about the sayings and deed of the men of old in order to entrust ourselves to their wisdom and prevent selfishness.  When we throw off our own bias, follow the sayings of the ancients, and confer with other people, matters should go well and without mishap. (p19)

These reminded me of the psychology studies showing the pervasiveness of self-deception and also reminded me of a Bible saying that I have often quoted: “In the counsel of many is much wisdom.”  But when I tried to look up the Bible passage, I could not find it.  Nonetheless, I found many Christian sites which, like me, felt it was a direct Biblical quote.  Though phrased differently, here are some verses from the book of  Proverbs which relay the same wisdom:

A wise man will hear and increase learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel.
–Proverbs 1:5

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But he who heeds counsel is wise.
— Proverbs 12:15

Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.
— Proverbs 15:22

List to counsel and receive instructions, that you may be wise in your latter days.
— Proverbs 19:20

Surely you need guidance to wage war, and victory is won through many advisers.
— Proverbs 24:6

Question to Readers:

  • Bible Misquote: Any Bible geeks reading this?  Does anyone know where that wording came from and how it got changed?  I’d be curious.  I must be from a famous movie, novel or sermon.    Hmmmmm?
  • Blogger Disease:  Do you think bloggers are more prone or less prone to staying outside the counsel of many?
  • Shared Wisdom:  What do you feel about quoting similar passages from widely different traditions?


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

15 responses to “The Counsel of Many

  1. Jen

    I think quoting similar passages from widely different traditions is a bit like listening to counsel. 🙂 The quotes all come from human beings, after all, and may aid in getting us out of the rut of thinking that what we like is the same as what is logical. Nice post.

  2. I agree, Jen, thanx for visiting. You do this very well yourself.

  3. Jen

    One more thing–this hits the conundrum right on the head. On the other hand, one runs the risk of capitulating to the likes and dislikes of others while denying his/her own direct experience. (Do I contradict myself? : )

  4. George 'Toad' Shope

    I found a site that explains your quote:

    They said:

    Most of us in the church have heard the comment “in the counsel of many is much wisdom” – that is actually from Proverbs 15:22 which says “Plans fail for the lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed.”

    So your quote is a form of the Proverbs quote you also posted. 😉

    Ribbit 🙂

  5. @ Toad
    Yes, I knew the verse it is suppose to come from, many web sites confirm that. I was just curious why the rephrasing became the preferred misquote.

  6. @Sabio Re: Misquote
    But Sabio, haven’t you heard that Christians worship in the spirit of the text, not the letter of it. 😉

    I’m guessing that the “why” is just a case of “it sounds more fluid yet carries the essential meaning.” Or, it could just be the human drive for concise phrases, just like “the love of money is the root of evil” turned in to “money is the root of evil” in popular vernacular.

    At least your quote has a source, unlike the un-sourced favorite “God helps those who help themselves.” 🙂

  7. “God helps those who help themselves.” was Ben Franklin, I thought.

    Anyway, I really imagine it was more like a famous saying or some other source, like Ben, that got confused and (as you said) because it flowed nicer that the Bible, it became the Bible.

  8. CRL

    The existence of similar passages in texts of different origins reveals all human glory and idiocy to have more in common than we would perhaps guess.

    Somehow, the council of many makes me think of this adage: “To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism, to steal ideas from many is research.”

  9. @ CRL,
    You nailed it again!
    “all human glory and idiocy” ! 🙂
    The coumcil of the many may scream for blood or burning down a country or killing a witch. You are right, there may be no real comfort in that. But I do think it is a safety check. Likewise our 4 branches of Government (I include the Press — which I honor), offer checks and balance to each other and are better than a dictator though the all may harmonize in a killing chorus depending on the mood of the country.

    Loved the quote. Thanx.

  10. JSA

    Diversity is very important. My guess is that bloggers are roughly the same as others in terms of their propensity to seek out diverse perspective.

    My favorites are the cases where the diverse perspectives group into some predictable clusters, and then there is one outlier that doesn’t fit into any cluster. One of my kids is reading Panchatantra right now, and was mildly scandalized by some of the “morals” it teaches.

  11. @ JSA
    The structure of the Panchatantra is fascinating backwardness. I’d be curious (1) Why your kid is reading it and (2) What in particular he/she found scandalizing. Sounds like a good post for your blog.

  12. Jessica

    It seems to me that it is a paraphrase of the very verses that you found. Interesting that such a paraphrase has been perpetuated by so many; authors, bloggers, grandmothers…

    On a lighter, but completely serious note, I believe that, in absence of wise counsel (which I am very often lacking), you could also abide by the advice of Sam Levenson when he said, “Just think of something stupid to say and then don’t say it.” The first part is easy for most of us. It is the second part that becomes the problem.

    In all seriousness, as far as personal bias, I think that if we really stop and look at our intentions (and are really self-aware), we know when we are skewing our own perceptions to meet our own agenda. It is less a lack of being wise and more a plethora of being selfish. Human beings are prone, not to consider something profoundly, but to consider how to make the decision they want to and make it seem like a wise decision.

  13. pastor Mike

    If I would be considered a Bible Geek; well I guess I’ll own that. But actually as a Pastor with a Master’s In Theology, the basic answer is this: In English translation, there are variances to words used in specific scriptures, however the baseline context does not change. Of course there are translations claiming to be “Bibles”, but are gross misinterpretations or the original manuscripts. For one to get hung up on literal word for word translation is no different than one banging their head against doorframe a hundred times without the rational of simply moving over a nudge to pass through the threshold. A fruitful student of the Bible seeks to discern from Original languages of either Hebrew or Greek to receive the greatest Context of a passage. Many times you will find a greater depthness of a passage by looking at the original language. In address your key question, the quote you reference in contextually weaved throughout many passages and principles throughout scripture. Lastly I would submit that the key to understanding is the basis of men were only scribes to that which God’s Spirit laid upon their hearts to write. There is much, much more that could be shared, but only providing a mild explanation.

  14. @ Mike (no titles here),
    Yes, I understand the issue of translation thoroughly. But thanks for joining in.

  15. Jodiann Whitley

    Saying; “There is wisdom in the counsel of many”, is simply stating a concept talked about in the bible, simplistically without quoting all the scriptures that pertains to and is the reason for the phrase. All the scripture you share above, and more written in Proverbs relates to how important it is, that we open ourselves to outside counsel.There are other phrases not in the bible that are used in this way – For instance, the word “Trinity” (this word is not in the bible) to explain the three in one concept of Father, Son & Holy Spirit, merely our shortened version, of which this word is meant to describe, of the huge study around the subject. Despite popular opinion, the famous saying, “Spare the rod, spoil the child,” cannot be found anywhere in the Bible. The saying, however, should not be considered invalid as there are verses that promote a similar concept.

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