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I think about wisdom. Perhaps more than the average person. It’s hard to tell. It’s not something that is a great conversation item.

Some years ago, I realized that perhaps more than anything else, I’d like to be wise. Wise in the sense that people wanted to listen to me.

But I’m not wise, nor, I suspect, will I ever be so. You see, the people who I consider to be wise listen more than they speak. And I’m the antithesis of that.

I’m convinced that wise people become wise because they listen. They absorb the wisdom nuggets of others. They also read a lot. I read a good deal, but not a lot. Not as much as I should.

I consider Socrates wise. But he was wise in realizing that he didn’t know much. His wisdom was, through questioning, showing others that they didn’t know very much either. In some sense, he invented the idea of true serious thought, deeper than the surface–probing, winding, turning, backing up, circling.

It’s hard not to think of Buddhist monks and Indian yogis as wise. They sound wise. Perhaps it’s because they say things that I don’t quite get, and I equate wisdom with statements that puzzle me. So, I’m not sure.

Lots of people, mostly dead, seem wise to me. Henry David Thoreau for instance. He said two things I never forgot:

“Most men live lives  of quiet desperation.”

I think that is one of the truest and saddest things I’ve ever read. We all live encased in armor, a total mask. Presenting ourselves as “normal” when inside I suspect most of us are very unsure of most everything. And that frightens us.

“I went to the woods to live deliberately.”

I don’t think you have to go to the woods, but every hermit, every monk, everyone who is serious about their spiritual journey knows that isolation is essential, if only for a few minutes a day.

Thomas Merton was wise I believe, but perhaps in some sense what we define as wise is that which we believe is true. For the same reason I think Lakota healer and visionary, Nicholas Black Elk was wise.

The bible speaks a lot about wisdom, and addresses wisdom as female. Sophia. That’s a nice thought, wisdom being the female aspect of God. Yet, I don’t think of God as having “aspects.” I see God as an integrated whole, a singleness, not a duality or triad. These are human constructs designed to help our minds understand the transcendent quality of the Godhead. At least so I believe.

The dictionary suggests that wisdom is the ability to discern what is right and true. Philosophically it is defined as the “best use of knowledge.” The problem with this, is that again, it seems to be in the eye of the beholder.

A Cameroon proverb says of wisdom:

The heart of the wise man lies quiet like limpid water.

That seems to confirm that wise people aren’t big talkers.

We watch a television show called An Idiot Abroad. It’s produced by Ricky Gervais, a real favorite of mine, and is about the travels of his friend “Karl”. Ricky refers to Karl as a moron, an idiot. We were unsure of watching, since we surely had no desire to laugh at the goings on a person who had mental defects.

That was not the case. Karl is completely normal mentally. He’s just a simple home town boy, sent a travel across the globe. And he says rather funny, but often quite wise things.

“It’s better to be an ugly person and to look at good-looking people, than to be good looking and have to look at ugly people. “

Isn’t that true? Karl drops little pearls like that. Yet, Karl is not wise by any standard I know.

Which means that even rather simple average people can drop a wise bomb from time to time.

Sometimes people refer to a young child as a “very old soul.” I’ve never met one myself, but I assume that they mean that the child says things that are wise “beyond his years.”

The Contrarian is wise a good deal of the time, about a lot of things. He’s worth listening to. He once met a kid, still a teenager who had quit school. He found it worthless. He left home, and made his way as best he could. Most of his time he spent in the library, reading. He was probably wise then, and no doubt is even wiser today.

I know a couple of my Internet friends, one I’ve known a long time, another I’ve just “met.” Both write exquisitely. Tim, many of you know, from Straight-Friendly. The other is Paul and many of you may not yet visit his blog. You should it’s called Cafe Philos. They make me think, more than I want to sometimes.

I think wise people have an open mind. About everything. Nothing is sacred, so to speak. Everything is up for grabs. Some things, over time, are probably true, but the door is always a bit ajar, just in case something new comes along that causes a need to re-evaluate.

I’m good at this too.

Now if I could only shut up long enough to work on that listening thing. With Lent approaching, I guess perhaps I’ve found at least one of my Lenten practices. How about you?

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