Starving for Wisdom
There are a number of reasons I continue to read new and disparate things. As I get older, I don’t want to become more boring! That assumes some of my students now consider me to be boring. I realize I do not get to decide whether someone thinks I am boring. I could be the most exciting human being in my state, but if an eighteen-year old college student decides I am boring, then for them I am boring. What I think does not matter for them.
I continue to read because I am curious. I learned long ago that nurturing my curiosity makes me more interesting and more knowledgeable. I have the best chance of being interesting if I am interested. That goes for a number of things, but I am convinced it clearly is true for spirituality. I like to have a wide range of interests. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, the old farm saying goes. As one who grew up on a farm with chickens, I learned the truth of that lesson the hard way!
So I was very intrigued reading the Op Ed page in the New York Times. It was the title that grabbed me. The article carried the same title as this inspirational reflection: “Staving for Wisdom.” That title has a lure for me. I would have read it regardless of the author. But I recognized the author, Nicholas Kristof, who is well known. Usually, I do not make up my mind whether I will read something based on whether I like the author (that typically means I agree with the author!). In fact, I can learn more by reading someone with whom I disagree or who thinks about things differently than I do.
When I saw the title, not only was I intrigued, but also thought I could guess what he might be giving focus. I like to think about the distinction between knowledge and wisdom. In spirituality, there is a role for both knowledge and wisdom. I know what I think, but I jumped into the Op Ed to see what Kristof thinks. I was not disappointed.
The first line of the article quotes the noted Harvard scientist, E. O. Wilson. “We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.” Getting one sentence like that makes the whole effort of finding and reading the article rewarding. “Yes,” I want to scream! Sometimes I do feel like I am drowning in information. I have numbers galore. I have phone numbers, zip codes, bank account numbers, ID numbers, Social Security number, and passwords with numbers, etc. I do not pine for the good old days. As a rural Indiana boy, I recall our phone was a party line with a couple other neighbors! Those are not good old days!
Eagerly I read on in Kristof’s piece. It turns out, Kristof is arguing for the liberal arts in a college curriculum or experience. Since that is what I teach, it felt reassuring. I do feel folks have a better life if they know something about religion or philosophy. Reading literature, learning a new language and so on likely makes me more interesting and, potentially, more valuable in a world of information, knowledge, facts, etc. However, let’s take the issue of wisdom outside academia and see its value in real life.
One point Kristof makes helps us see the value of wisdom. He says, “Wherever our careers lie, much of our happiness depends upon our interactions with those around us, and there’s some evidence that literature nurtures a richer emotional intelligence.” I think we can replace the word, “literature,” with others words, like religion, philosophy, etc. Let me pick up on three key ideas in his sentence.
First, he talks about happiness. Just knowing facts and a great deal of information is not likely to make me happy. I think he is exactly right: our happiness typically does depend on those around us---our relationships. I personally don’t care if my relationships are with scientists, business folks, etc. I care whether they are spiritual, whether they are engaged with life, whether they love, help and are of service to the world. That is how I want to be and I want to be with people like that. It would make me happy.
We have already implicated his second thought. Much of our happiness and meaning in life comes with our interactions with other people. I wonder if we are not really reflections of the people with whom we associate and spend time? It is with others that I am likely to bump into wisdom. Spiritually this is very true. I know quite a few facts and information about Jesus and the early Christian Church. But I bet you would rather hear the wisdom about living my life as a follower of Jesus and as a member of the Church. Wisdom inspires!
Kristof talks about emotional intelligence. EI, as it is often called, is like IQ, but actually more interesting. Someone with a rich EI is someone who can relate well to people and who makes people feel included, valuable and generally better about themselves. I am sure Jesus had a very rich emotional intelligence. People wanted to hang out with him. They wanted some of his wisdom. They wanted more than facts; they begged for more than information.
I’m not starved for wisdom because I know where to find it and, hopefully, how to share whatever wisdom I have. But our world is starved for wisdom. Let’s go to work!