Expanding Our Definition of “Wisdom”

For there is no remembrance of the wise, as with the fool, forever. Since in the days to come, all will be forgotten. Yes, the wise dies like the fool! Ecclesiastes

Hokmah/ wisdom (like English ‘intelligence’ or intellect’ but unlike English ‘wisdom’) is ethically neutral. Wicked men and nations may have hokmah (e.g., 2 Sam 13:3; Isa 29:14; 47:10; Ezek 28:5), and this hokmah is genuine, even when abused. Proverbs is unique in insisting that hokmah is ipso facto a moral virtue. – Michael Fox

So that’s hokmah/wisdom. This wisdom entails erudition, discernment, drive, resolve, seriousness, good sense, savviness in acquisition and management… expertise.

Wisdom is the MBA grad whom the business school asks to come back and give the “Distinguished Alumnae Lecture.” She’s the academic who knows how to popularize the dusty material and package it into the wildly successful book, “Using the Pythagorean Theorem to Raise Awesome Kids.” He’s the plumber that has steadily moved up the ranks from apprentice to owning his own profitable HVAC company.

Wisdom’s children have all graduated college and found good spouses. And now he’s wrapping up a 30 year career and transitioning to grandfathering, charitable endeavors, and keeping an eye on a bulging investment portfolio.

But wait, if we’re going to also call all these manifestations of genuine wisdom, we must mention other, Ecclesiastesish, features. Over all and throughout this life-long ambition and self-control there’s a shrug of the shoulders. A genuine self-doubt. A minimizing of the success.

The wise man glances at his accomplishments and summarizes them in a word: “Meh.”

Just so – because wisdom isn’t revealed merely by the high SAT, the killer job in the high-rise downtown, the turned-out kids. True wisdom is ambition and discipline that is alongside of…

…an awareness of looming death and realizing it’s a great eraser and equalizer. Soon you and the middling performer and the out-and-out bum will all come together in the League of the Buried and Forgotten. If you’re consumed by leaving a legacy, or showing your high school classmates and siblings how you’ve differentiated yourself from the mediocre majority, you don’t yet have “eyes in your head.”

…the working realization that you can only safely invest in what is beyond this space and time. Dying only with bursting barns – that will then be turned over to unproven competence (that is, your inheritors) and subject to the ravages of economic and natural decay – exposes you to the scorn of heaven: “Shortsighted Fool!”

…the recognition that all this drive and success come at an unavoidable cost. You are paying for your success with worry and stress. Don’t tell yourself that the weekend e-mails and the long commutes and all-nighters aren’t exacting something from you and your family. You can’t do it all, “effortlessly as gods.” Nobody comes out of the wilderness and into the land of milk and honey without a few bodies strewn in the wilderness. Wisdom realizes that everything is a trade off, and knows what he’s given up just as much as what’s been gained.

…the judgment that the high good of this life is neither unmistakable success nor untempered hedonism, but the gift of enjoying the mundane: hearth and home and health and a good experience in and through work. Beyond these simple enjoyments, the **pursuit of** (not the having) some more stellar markers of success (key words: “lakefront”; “legacy”; “League” {as in Ivy}) is a lie.

…the realization that even the ability to enjoy these simple pleasures is given by God, and to every person He distributes or doesn’t for reasons that are inscrutable. And so come lunchtime, the wise man sits before his bean burrito and reads his newspaper with both thanksgiving and a sigh of relief.

One thought on “Expanding Our Definition of “Wisdom”

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  1. “Enjoy the mundane”?? Now you tell me! 🙂 I’ve tried for so long to avoid it! This (appreciating the day-to-day stuff) should not be revelational at this stage in my life, but slow learning seems to be a personal trait. Great post. Thanks.

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