The Gift of Wisdom: Ancient but Pertinent?
When I think of Wisdom my mind always throws up pictures of Michelangelo-like figures with ponderous looks on their faces. The scene is very serious and feels absolutely irrelevant to my life. A second later I am seeing two figures on a canvas mat struggling to get control of a situation. Both images are important and both apply to me. Living in a wise way is very important and serious and this life skill plays out in my life as a pitched battle between my ego or inner child and God. We are down on the mat wrestling away all day long. At times the struggle for me to be wise is funny. I am the child with a Look or Big Hunk candy bar, covered in chocolate who badly needs a bath. I am wading through my life with a terrific personal coach whom I would like to ignore. I would like to lay down in my life and be waited upon. I would like to wave a magic wand and have all my troubles just go away. Why not?
Wisdom is a gift from God which empowers us to do what is best. Wisdom is the opposite of impulsiveness, self-indulgence and short-sightedness. In the secular world, wisdom is doing what is best because of fear or because of personal gain. In the spiritual world, wisdom is sought because it draws us to growth, generosity, inclusivity, justice, love, and heroism. Wisdom is what God expresses in the world. When we exercise wisdom, we rise above what we want to consider what is best. The two might be the same. In any case, the activity of considering what is best frees us from the possible deception that can come by just following my feelings. Wisdom asks if a thought or course of action is taking us to a bad place in life where we have been before or if a decision is taking us to a positive place.
One of the greatest deceptions in life is called the Pleasure Principle. According to this principle, if something feels good it is good and if something feels bad it is bad. This line of thinking is fallacious. Obviously heroin may feel good, but it is horribly destructive. Telling a lie may feel good right now and yet end up causing harm to me and a lot of pain. Eating french fries may feel good now but the health results later may feel quite bad. There are many things in life that feel bad, such as asking forgiveness or letting someone inconvenience us, that when performed cause us to feel good almost immediately. People who are wise can distinguish between short and long term results. They are committed to the truth and to wanting to be joyful, not just comfortable.
Wisdom takes knowledge and uses it in the best possible ways. It thinks broadly rather than just individualistically. Wisdom perceives the interconnectedness and interdependence of everything in the world, so that when we have the gift of wisdom, we live with the Earth and all it inhabitants in mind. We understand that what we do affects everything on the Earth. My thoughtful and healthy living affects everyone. Wisdom therefore does have discipline as a skill. Another word for this is restraint. It can be fun not to waste. It can be really exciting not to be driven by addictions and obsessions. I can and often am driven by food and things to which I am attracted that I want to own. I love cinnamon rolls and designer fabric. I cannot eat the first nor afford the second. It is so lovely to feel free of pining for these. Wisdom is sinking in and I do not feel the pull or deprivation of these anymore. Wisdom has gifted me with excitement over better health and a good hold on my budget. This process is bound up with good Discernment. I am aware of the difference of quality in feelings between immediate gratification versus inner peace.
Another feature of wisdom worth considering is attachment to outcomes. A relative recently said that he wanted to help someone but did not want to be attached to the outcome. By this he meant that he did not need to be in control of what was best for someone. He also did not see any value in feeling bad if the other person decided not to take him up on his offer. Implied in this was the fact that we cannot change or fix other people. Only they and God can do that. Wisdom sees the sense in all this. When we are wise, we realize that may see someone else’s situation as it really is or we may not. We know that only God sees the whole picture. I may want someone to save money or be less depressed, but I inevitably do not have all the facts. In any course of conversation or action I take, I should first put the situation in God’s hands and wait to see if the various options I have are out of my fears, anxieties, or anger or something that is best for everyone concerned.
I know several people who are very activated emotionally by the suffering of others. They want to help people with problems or obstacles immediately. That’s very understandable and usually good. But, sometimes it is good to not help people. We should be compassionate but may decide not to step in and do things for people. If this decision is motivated by wisdom it may not be easy but it may be best. We do wise things because they are correct, not because we feel guilty or because we want people to be dependent on us or approve of us.
Wisdom is cited throughout the Bible. There are free online concordances which can lead to all the references to wisdom. Reading these texts and ruminating on them can lead to important ideas and graces.
A very good book on wisdom from a non-Judeo-Christian perspective is The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz.