Mankind’s greatest discovery is ignorance. It is fairly recent in human history. Even when I was a child I was taught a lot of religious tenets that were impressed on me as irrefutable fact. The question of faith – of believing what couldn’t be proved – didn’t come into it. If you didn’t ‘believe’ it you were destined for an eternity in hell. Hell was well defined; eternity, less well.
Once we humans discovered our ignorance we were on the road to infinite wisdom. That is the journey mankind is making now. This has important implications for the acquisition of wisdom. We can be taught how to cut our toe nails or climb Mount Everest. All we need is demonstration, training and guidebook. Wisdom is not like that. Its acquisition is an act of relating fact to fantasy.
Here’s an example. There are hundreds of descriptions of sunsets, dozens of scientific explanations of what is happening when the sun ‘goes down’, which, of course, it doesn’t at all. These provide a level of information that satisfies the general public. But what is the wisdom of sunset? What can sunset teach us that will enhance our view of life and make us enjoy it more?
I can tell you: Sunset is a promise of tomorrow.
It may be many other things, too, that I haven’t thought of. Because wisdom is not a fixed saying, not a conclusion to satisfy all questions. Defining wisdom is itself difficult. It is a growing experience, something we create for our needs and the needs of others. Wisdom is a lollipop of love, a hand held at a critical moment, a smile of approbation when the going is easy, a sign of care when it is difficult. Wisdom is, above all, making sense of what appears to be nonsense.
To discover all these aspects of wisdom requires creativity. It is not necessary that we write, paint or draw expressively. Those are facets of creativity only a few people appear to have, although I suspect a great many more have them than get to try. The creativity demanded for wisdom is the ability to relate what is to what might be. It depends for its starter on information. The early hurdles to wisdom were a lack of it. That doesn’t mean the ignorant were not wise.
Often they were wiser than the educated. Their very lack of information made them contemplate the little they had and try to make sense of it. The wisest people in my early life were a man who ploughed a field with horses, a man who cut hedges and dug ditches, a man who thatched the roofs of houses, a man who made toys from wood. Later I learnt wisdom from a nurse who healed patients in hospitals, a lady who taught management techniques, a girl who showed infinite patience and an old woman who knew how to enjoy life at 103.
The more I looked for wisdom, the more I realised that you cannot ‘find’ it. It simply doesn’t exist. You have to make it for yourself and perhaps for others as well. But even if you create wisdom for other people they cannot just acquire it from you. You may inspire and encourage them. You may even incite them. In the end they must develop their own wisdom by piecing together the Ingots of Information and the Slices of Sense they see for themselves. They must turn IS into maybe.
The next generations are going to be faced with decisions we used to think only God made. His claim to fame was not worldly knowledge but wisdom, knowing what is best. The reckoning, if indeed there ever was one, came at the end – some way to go yet. Eternity is not a quarterly report. Wise thinking is, by definition, long term.
What we decide today as mankind’s purpose determines mankind’s future for eternity. That is why wisdom is more needed now than ever. Moreover, we do have the opportunity to determine with some degree of certainty what mankind’s purpose ought to be. With survival, immortality and total knowledge pretty well assured we have the makings of a paradise on earth and / or in the heavens.
It’s not a decision we should take lightly or stumble into thoughtlessly.
It’s a decision as profound as any God could be called upon to make.