Posted by: laughs4dads | December 22, 2010

Reflections on a Society Without Wisdom

We’re about to celebrate a holiday that involves three wise men, and it makes me wonder: where has all the wisdom gone?

We have many, many smart people in America. But very few wise ones.

You rarely even hear the word “wisdom” anymore, as if it has somehow become obsolete, like a discarded piece of technology.

But if you look around America these days, it certainly seems as though we could use a lot more of it.

Where did it all go?

It used to reside within our elders. You know, the matriarch who passed down all the old traditions, folklore and superstitions, all of which had at least some practical application, whether it was getting out a stain, or warding off disease, or inducing labor or knowing when it was going to rain. There was the grandfather who’d take you fly fishing while imparting the wisdom of the ages: how to track bear, raise your kids, be a man. There was the mentor who would open the mysteries of a trade; the clergyman who would set us on a righteous path; the leader who would reassure us in troubled times, or read the comics to us during a newspaper strike, or at least pose a formidable figure into which we could put our confidence.

It doesn’t seem like we have any of that anymore. Our leaders, more often than not, come off as petty fools with all the maturity of rival sleep-away camps during color wars. Our religions sometimes provide rules to live by, but also deal in lies to rule by. And we have lost the tradition of passing down a trade because, for the most part, we don’t really have trades much anymore. I mean, how many teens aspire to become carpenters?

And the last few decades have been really tough on our elders. The pace of life and the technology it relies on has forced our elders to look to us for help, rather than the other way around. Older people are depicted in the media more as bumbling, crotchety, but lovable idiots rather than sage problem solvers. In our society, older people are discussed as if they are a problem…for children who must tend to them, a health system that must care for them, a Social Security system that must support them.

Truth is, we have been trained to go to the Web for everything now, because it has become a repository for all human knowledge. And yes, here is everything from herbs to cure a cold, to ways to keep deer from eating flowers, to tips on incorporating ancient Chinese mysticism into your life.

The knowledge is there, but not the wisdom. The wisdom to know not only what to say, but how to say it. The wisdom to pass along not only solutions but serenity, not only facts but feelings…a touch, a hug, a shared bond through generations.

And, in any case, I’m not sure we even have the capacity for wisdom anymore. We don’t have the demeanor for it, or the patience. Wisdom is not ironic or snarky or self-deprecating. It cannot be delivered in 140 characters.

There was a time when almost every society, or every tribe, or every family had someone it could go to. It was probably someone really old and wrinkled, maybe someone who spoke with a fractured syntax or hybrid accent, someone who had been around for as long as anyone could remember.

In other words, Yoda.

Most of us had a Yoda, once. And I think most of us are kind of lost without it.


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