Where Do You Look for Wisdom?
Finding wisdom isn’t easy, not even in today’s age of speed and comfort.
I wish I could tell you that wisdom is a one-click order delivered to your doorstep in two days, fresh and clean and wrapped in a recyclable package.
“Hey kids, look! Wisdom’s here!”
But life doesn’t work that way. Wisdom isn’t bought or grabbed—it is earned.
Wisdom arrives on its own time and in its own fashion, hard and heavy and fresh from the fight—often when you’re the one fighting and your only opponent is yourself. And, in the midst of your battle, as you pause from exhaustion or frustration, just for a moment, in the hour when you are not certain you will ever know peace or rest in this, or any, lifetime, that is when she appears. Perhaps wisdom shows up and settles on the floor next to you—maybe alongside a broken, hurt, sad, angry, anxious you—and wraps a warm arm around your sobbing shoulders, and opens her hand to show you a small, beautiful, shimmering jewel.
“Look,” she whispers, “This is the lesson. The one you need. The one you are looking for.”
And then she is gone again.
The Beginning of Wisdom
The insightful Krista Tippett articulates this beautifully in Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living when she writes: “You have your own stories, the dramatic and more ordinary moments where what has gone wrong becomes an opening to more of yourself and part of your gift to the world. This is the beginning of wisdom.”
The beginning of wisdom—oh, what an enticing promise! Culturally, we often position wisdom as something that is reserved only for those with silver hair and a stack of degrees. But maybe we are wrong in that supposition. Maybe wisdom is more globally accessible than that.
Maybe wisdom is smart’s older sister, the one with the longer hair and the knowing look and we can collect pieces of her like pebbles in our pockets. Maybe wisdom sits much closer than we understand, and when we engage in substantive, meaningful dialogue with others centered in tender listening and gracious caring, we’re able to call her forth in more ways than we first realize, and she will start to whisper her lessons. Maybe we can coax her to tell us more, when we share our pain, when we become vulnerable.
Uncovering More Wisdom
And maybe we are lucky to be living now, in the Information Age, when we have broader access to the wisdom of this world and the wisdom of the ages than at any other time in history. Think of the books Maria Popova explores daily in Brain Pickings, about which she says, “…it led me to think of what I do as a kind of two-way generational re-parenting…on the one hand, caring for these bygone thinkers, while at the same time imbuing the present generation with their hand-me-down wisdom and their most enduring ideas.” Or, as the Indigo Girls sang about Virginia Woolf’s diaries, “a kind of a telephone line through time, and the voice at the other end comes like a long-lost friend.”
So many telephone lines, imaginary and real, are available to us now. There are so many ways to take advantage of this marvelous mélange of diverse thought and opportunity that exists in our world around us—important considerations that could help us, help our children, and help each other.
Thus, in these times of turmoil, when we are tempted to shut down socially and protect our individual, tiny portions of the world, perhaps the truly wise answer is to open up, to start honest and deep communication, to resist the urge to retreat into our camps and instead encourage the continuing of conversation in civil tones, even through the difficult parts, especially through the difficult parts. Perhaps this is when and where civil conversation truly matters.
Because whatever we know about wisdom, we know that none of us have enough—not you, not me, not this world, and we would do best to find and generate more of it. The getting of wisdom will probably never be easy, but perhaps it also does not have to be as hard as we make it. And perhaps we should all start today, because the well-being of this age depends upon it.
Krista Tippett, Maria Popova, Seth Godin, David Whyte and many others are gathering at 1440 Multiversity for a unique program this February. It’s called “The On Being Gathering—Becoming Wise: A Calling for This Age.” Submit a free application to join the program here.