The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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October 6, 2000 Issue
Summoned to Serve

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

Summoned to Serve

"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.)

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