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Kindness is more important than wisdom, and the recognition of this is the beginning of wisdom.
– Theodore Isaac Rubin
Wisdom seems to be not just a forgotten art, but a lost objective of humanity.
Over two millennia ago people like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle (among many others) committed their thoughts to writing (Socrates, thanks to Plato) and their thinking is revered as great wisdom today.
There were great writers of wisdom during the Roman era. Then the world went into the Dark Ages and almost no one wrote anything considered wise today. That’s right, isn’t it?
Actually, no. As much as possible of the wisdom of the past was destroyed by the Church of Rome after the fall of the western part of the Roman Empire in order that only church writing could be considered truth and taught to the uneducated flocks.
Meanwhile, in what we today call the Middle East, South Asia and the Far East, civilization and its authors of great wisdom carried on with great flourish and progress. Those of us in the west may not be as aware of their writing as we should be because these people thoughtlessly and discourteously wrote in languages other than English.
English speakers, being the inherent snobs they are, refused to acknowledge that anything of value could have taken place or been written down in any language other than English, Latin or the successors of Latin–in other words the languages of western Europe. Arabs, Indians and Chinese, for example, had marvellously well developed cultures during Europe’s Dark Ages and Middle Ages.
If it had not been for some daring Irish monks who hid away written works when the rest of Europe was ravaged by a series of tribes, we would have no western history before the medieval period. Those Irish monks literally saved western history from disappearing forever. And western wisdom.
Europeans really started to roll during the Renaissance, though written work was still heavily censored or altered by the church.
Where is the written work that records the wisdom of today? Do we have no wise people today?
Schools for common folk (as opposed to just for children of the nobility) began in the 17th century, then continued to become more universal in the west until the end of the 19th century. The more people that learned to read, the more began to write. With the printing press, books became more common and available at reasonable prices for the ordinary household.
Today publishers (including self publishers) in the United States alone put out about 200,000 different titles each year. The problem is not finding books to read, but finding good books from among this massive number, then finding time to read as many as one might like to gain wisdom.
As it happens, a recent study showed that only about six percent of the adult population of North America reads more than three books per year. When you consider that many professionals must read books within their professional specialties in order to stay abreast of developments, that leave precious few of us who read books regularly.
Must we read books in order to become wise? It’s not that simple, of course. Reading a variety of book subjects and genres forces the brain to work in ways that few other activities of life do. Experience alone doesn’t make a person wise. Reading alone doesn’t either. Nor does education of various sorts. It’s the combination of all of these that develops a brain environment that is conducive to wisdom.
Wisdom is also not something that happens quickly. It takes decades and a devotion to learning for that whole time. It also requires a commitment to teaching what we learn so that others may develop their own form of wisdom. It’s impossible to know or even to guess how many people have gained wisdom from the teachings of Socrates over 2400 years ago.
Just as becoming an athlete of Olympic calibre requires a combination of commitment and learning in a variety of ways, becoming a wise person requires learning and teaching in a variety of ways. Teaching itself becomes a form of learning (docendo disco).
The human body is designed to become weaker and less coordinated as we age. However, the human brain is designed to grow, gaining knowledge and wisdom for as long as we live. Our overall design shows that our well developed brain should take over as the most important organ of our bodies when other body functions begin to get well past their prime.
Dementia is what happens to those who don’t follow that pattern. Dementia is preventable, totally, by each individual. Old people who become stupid have allowed their brains to atrophy along with the rest of their bodies as they age, until not much worthwhile of anything remains. For others, they are at their peak of wisdom in their senior years.
Research is even taking place now to see if Alzheimer’s Disease may be prevented or slowed considerably in people with very active brains. My grandfather died of Alzheimer’s and I watched him decline to becoming a baby in an ancient body. I don’t intend to allow myself to go that way.
OK, the light has turned green. Get thinking. Wise up!
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a book about how, what and when to teach children what they need to know to lead fulfilling and fruitful lives, right to their dying day.
Learn more at http://billallin.com