I’ve been rafting some turbulent waters lately, with some big water still to come. So I was having trouble writing a post.
Once again, picking a jury in a criminal trial the last week has been illuminating and encouraging as much as it’s been emotionally demanding.
And then I get an email from Snake.
First off, just seeing Snake Bloomstrand’s name lights me up. He is a dear friend and a mentor, a legend in men’s work and MKP, and he is indeed a wise man, best demonstrated by his well-articulated funny bone.
I was then delighted to find Snake had a piece to offer for the newsletter, something we’d talked about a while ago.
So, without further ado, I give you Snake!
Champions of Wisdom
A recent post pictured a group of old men (Coots) offering free-advice (wisdom) from a booth at a public event. The picture triggered memories of a social experiment I undertook several years ago.
Actually, the message lettered on the banner and tied above the booth got under my skin.
“Old coots giving free advice – It’s probably bad advice but its free”
I reacted unfavorably to the joke reading a deeper significance into the words. The men justified offering what they’d learned about life with a disclaimer. The wisdom they had to offer was most likely worthless and unreliable. Really?
Knowledge, the accumulation of data-facts-expertise has flooded our lives. With a keystroke and a power source we can tap into a mighty river of knowledge. To what end, at what cost?
We’ve unwittingly over valued knowledge and tragically under-valued the distillation of wisdom.
Having reached a certain age, learned a few lessons and paid attention I’ve collected a bit of wisdom. The inhibition I experience acknowledging I’d grown wise fascinated me. I felt arrogant or egotistical to claim a measure of wisdom. I began to notice midwestern social humility kept any wisdom, mine or others from ever seeing the light of day.
Assuming a common definition of wisdom would be helpful, I determined wisdom differed from knowledge in one important way. Knowledge is the accumulation of data-facts-expertise, while wisdom carries an honorable quality. Wisdom is all about the application of knowledge and has a moral foundation, “for the good of all” is a critical characteristic defining wisdom.
I settled on the following definition –
The ability to learn from life and use the knowledge gained to shape the future for the good of all.
Indulging my life-long inclination to act as a social irritant, I decided to poke a stick through the bars and pry some wisdom free.
I made a cardboard sign, “Wisdom – Bought and Sold – 25 cents.” and set up shop on a bench at a busy local park with a pocket full of quarters. My goal was to tease some wisdom out of the shadows. I took my toddler grandson along hoping to blunt the – creepy guy selling wisdom – appearance. Babies or puppies have the uncanny ability to make most anyone approachable.
You might imagine the variety of reactions to my experiment. Joggers lost in respiratory rapture flew by without a glance. People using the walking path cast furtive glances in my direction attempting to read the sign and avoid eye contact, some smiled or waved but refused to slow or break stride.
A wave of embarrassment and shyness swept over me. I doubted myself. How arrogant to think others might be the least interested in what I’d learned, or hand over a quarter to hear an old man crow. Even using the baby as bait was an utter disappointment and failed to draw a crowd.
A crooked old man with a cane sat down next to us on the bench. He looked the baby over skeptically, offered me the stink-eye, and launched into an unsolicited argument attacking the accuracy of my definition of wisdom. When complete he demanded a quarter. I countered that his opinion wasn’t necessarily wisdom. Rather than argue all afternoon, I paid him.
As he shuffled off with his quarter, I heard him mutter – “Who’s the wise guy now?”
Convinced people would not approach wisdom of their own accord, I took a more aggressive posture slipping on my sideshow pitchman persona and shouting – “I’m buying wisdom here folks, quarter a pop!” Wisdom remained a difficult transaction to make.
To be fair, a few people did pity me, offering up a quarter simply to hear what I was on about. However, when I turned the tables asking them to sell some of their own wisdom, I found very few people willing. Most begged off with “Oh no, I’m not wise.”
I hold ancient philosophers partially responsible for instigating this unfortunate social inhibition. Socrates once claimed the wisest man on earth said –
“I’m the wisest because I know one thing, I know nothing.”
Socrates understanding may serve to reduce hubris and encourage humility but also threatens to render us mute. The loss is catastrophic. The unfortunate result of our humility and misplaced modesty is under utilizing the aggregate wisdom of humanity.
Wisdom demands the moral, ethical and social application of knowledge. For the good of all. Impossible to achieve if we refuse to value or contribute what we’ve learned.
Throughout history knowledge alone has never been well suited resolve the cruelty, violence and greed humans perpetrate on one another. In fact, knowledge alone has been known to contribute to the distress.
Knowledge and wisdom are best blended in equal proportions. Social integrity will remain elusive if we insist our pockets are empty, our hearts littered with useless debris. The health and well-being of humanity demands we all contribute. Knowledge and wisdom.
Step up without apology! “Oh no, I’m not wise,” simply will never do. We’d all best become champions of wisdom…quickly…….today!