What makes wisdom?

Posted: Thursday, September 27, 2001

I made this inquiry of a friend: "Precisely when does one grow wise?" Wine cures. Milk clabbers. Fruit ripens. Eagles and bears (and other critters) grow "smarter" and more cautious. But what about folk?

We face many knotty (and naughty) problems. What do we do or say when Johnny gets into a fight at school, or Alice thinks we should have a grand piano which we can't afford, or Little Darling wants to get married to someone we think is "beneath" her, or Big Brother runs away from home, or we win a bonanza and need to choose an investment, or Mama gets sick, or Papa loses his job, or the home burns down? Do we have the wise solution? Can we turn to a wise person for counsel?

Historically we have thought of wisdom in connection with someone with gray hair and wrinkled skin and a slower pace-the older Albert Einstein, Sister Theresa of Calcutta in her "sunset" of life. Or we have pictured wisdom coming from someone who has suffered much, like the Ancient Mariner.

However, in our topsy-turvy era, tradition has been thrown out, and we have learned that "maturity" and "prime of life" do not spell "wisdom."

Still, deep down, we wonder: Is there a threshold over which one must step into wisdom? Is there a point at which neighbors and friends come and crown us with laurels and proclaim, "Welcome to the Hall of the Wise." Is there a beacon from a tall mountain that declares, "Here is a wise one." Or is there an inner voice that whispers to you, "Now is the time to step forward and share with the world all that you know."

Nowadays, when we view the "elderly" in our society, we seldom find "wisdom" as it was understood in days gone by-when "senior citizens" sat at the "gate of the city" with other older folk, and judged, and helped make community decisions. Instead, we see pleasure-seeking, profit-taking, and time-wasting. The "active" elderly who still make investments and maintain properties and take voyages-where is their sagacity? When they "retire," is there more they could do than play cribbage and bridge? Don't they have some advice for our present bizarre lifestyle?

But, then, would anyone listen? Today we have a social "norm" of giving kudos to the young, and neglecting the old.

This was my friend's pithy reply: "Age does not a wise man make. One becomes wise when one grows up, not just grows older. Wisdom comes with experiencing age, not just observing it. Prime and wise are closely related, because wise ones make their time "prime," for however much or little of it there may be remaining in their lives. There are no thresholds, laurels, beacons, proclamations. Wisdom is passed on by deeds that are done and words that are spoken in everyday living by those whom we love and those who love us."

Now that you have been pondering this, what do you think?

Don Adams

Auke Bay

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