I’ve been wondering about wisdom. Do you know a person who you would consider wise? A person whose words are often peppered with thoughts which galvanise your own choices. When you’re around them, you unconsciously wait for it— the dropping of that pearl. It always comes without intention, without guile. I know perhaps one or two such people.
I have known far more people who believe they are wise. Most often, they are intellectual people, intelligent and educated, who see themselves as helpers. They feel the need to coach people in their life choices. They pose a series of questions, pit-patting you in the direction they want you to go; your climactic conclusion will seem your own, and that moment will be heightened by the illusion that wisdom has been gifted to you. The Wiseman Cat has enjoyed toying with you, Mouse. The Salesman, the Sage!
Religious people seem wise.
I’ve been reading, Nietzsche and Rumi. Solomon was supposedly the wisest man who ever lived. I guess every culture, in every time, has her Philosopher. I have mixed experiences when reading wisdom literature. Sometimes, I read a paragraph or quote, and Boom! My body vibrates with knowing— THIS IS TRUE!! Simple statements, like: It’s better to give than to receive. These carry the essence of a powerful life. In fact, if you made this simple piece of wisdom the driving force behind your actions, you would lead an exceptional life. It’s wise at any time, for any person, no matter the context. This is timeless wisdom, universal wisdom.
Then there is wisdom that feels a bit, how should I put it, scratchy? For me, one such piece of wisdom is found in Proverbs 31. It’s the advice given by a mother to her son regarding choosing a wife. SCRATCH! I can read it now without tearing a hole in my flesh, simply because I have been inoculated. I have learned its context and its distance from myself and other present day women. It is what I classify as contextual wisdom. And I can appreciate it as such.
Westerners are saturated with contextual wisdom. We are the Self-Help generation, the Web-MD Diagnosers, the Google Map Explores. We are the watchers of TED talks and listeners of podcasts and the readers of blogs. We have access to thinkers and their wisdom day in and day out. We have Tony Robbins, and Steve Jobs and Malala Yousafzai! It’s a Wisdom Wonderland. It all makes me a bit itchy.
The danger of contextual wisdom is not that it is inherently unwise, but that it may not apply to everyone all the time. But we preach it as if it does. We blanket all modern day experiences with these contextual wisdoms, and we don’t take responsibility for the outcome. The Devil Made Me do It, we say.
One of my favourite present day word of wisdom is this: The only way to do great work is to love what you do~ Steve Jobs. Sounds true right? So why does it make me itch?
Let’s apply this wisdom to a man that rides a rickshaw in, Calcutta. He wakes up at 4 am to ride his bicycle two hours to get to the city. He works for ten hours riding his bicycle around the city ferrying passengers on a rented rickshaw. His earnings are divided in half when he pays for his rickshaw rental, leaving just enough to buy food for his wife and three children. He drives home, getting to eat a meagre meal with his family two hours later. According to the Steve Jobs, this man will only do good, satisfying work if he absolutely loves riding a rickshaw. If he doesn’t he should find something else to do. Right.
You see, this piece of wisdom is not universal. It’s great advice here in North America, where the vast majority of us can, if we work really hard, pick ourselves up by our own bootstraps and change our occupation. My husband has done it, I am doing it. It’s a great piece of contextual wisdom. We’ll take it!
But pure wisdom, timeless wisdom, is something that could change the life of that rickshaw driver. It could change attitude, give vision or bring peace. And that same wisdom would affect us westerners in the same way. It is outside the boundaries of context.
What is my purpose in writing this? I guess I want to encourage others to weigh up their wisdom of choice. Are you ingesting vast quantities of Contextual Wisdom, and overlooking age-old truths? I’m wondering, how am I relevant, and to whom? Perhaps you’re wondering that too:)