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Seeking wisdom in information age
We need to teach our children how to attain wisdom, not just to get a good job
By Tom Rinkoski
"I prayed and prudence was given to me; I pleaded and the spirit of wisdom came to me." Excerpted from the first reading from the Book of Wisdom for Sunday Oct. 15.
The times we live in have been dubbed "The Information Age." Despite information labels on every can we open and tremendous amounts of data downloaded from the web, we do not seem any wiser. As a nation, we gloat in the domestication of our knowledge. But wisdom is not a photo-opportunity for what we have learned. While we are a first world country in technology and data acquisition, we seem to be no more than a third world country in wisdom.
The writer of the Scripture boldly states a preference for wisdom above power ("being a
king"), money ("priceless gems") or health and beauty. I never cease to be amazed what
people will do for money, power, or beauty. I confess I would like to have enough money
to pay my monthly mortgage payments, enough power to take my evening walks, and
enough attraction that my mate wishes to keep me around. I have prayed for wisdom when
my college kids make decisions about their future. I asked for the wisdom to say the
"right" things to my mother, when I recently flew to attend to her after surgery for breast
cancer. When I work with young couples asking to be married in the church, I expend
considerable effort to teach them skills. But I know there is no way I can give them the
wisdom they will need.
Family traditions are full of wisdom sayings. Think of all the quips and aphorisms that
family and friends tossed at you when you were having your first child. Do you remember
what you said as your child went off to college? Here are some of the more popular family
bon mots: "No one has ever drowned in sweat!" "Open your arms to change, but don't lose
your values." "Read more books, watch less TV!" "Read between the lines." "Be gentle on
the earth." I will never forget what my Aunt Millie told me when I proudly came home
from college with straight A's, "You can be book smart and life dumb, you know!" Who
filled your family tree with wisdom sayings?
How do we teach wisdom? The State of Wisconsin proudly says it prepares our children
for employment. But gaining employment is no guarantee of wisdom. Catholic schools
assure us they teach virtue. But virtue is not necessarily the same as wisdom. We are
quick to blame TV and media for teaching us bad, perhaps even evil things, but extremely
slow to create ways of acquiring wisdom. Is it because we don't recognize wisdom? I don't
think so. I have the honor and pleasure of working with a few teenagers in Brown County
who understand the depth and challenge of wise decisions better than some adults.
Wisdom is a difficult, expensive proposition. In the Gospel, Jesus offers the comic
imagery that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than to gain the
wisdom necessary to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Just threading needles to sew buttons
on my winter coat is difficult enough operation for me. Threading camels is a bit much
even for my imagination. But the difficulty of any quest has not deterred us in the past.
We put a man on the moon. The Berlin Wall came down. I even learned Latin! If a couple
understood the difficulties of raising a child into a healthy successful adult would they
stop? Even with the high cost of divorce have people stopped entering marriage?
I saw a new book subtitled, A Toltec Wisdom Book. The author said there are four
agreements necessary to have wisdom: 1) Be impeccable with your word. 2) Don't take
anything personally. 3) Don't make assumptions. 4) Always do your best. Although these
may not be my top four in acquiring wisdom, they are excellent propositions, and anyone
who followed them is on the path toward acquiring wisdom.
I leave you with a quote I found in a Harper's Magazine in an article by Edward Hoagland.
"There often seems to be a playfulness to wise people, as if either their equanimity has as
its source this playfulness, or the playfulness flows from the equanimity; and they can
persuade other people who are in a stage of agitation to calm down and manage a smile."
Good advice. Try it at home this week.
(Rinkoski is the Green Bay Diocese's Family Life director.)