This is a continuation of the post: I Don’t Know It. If you haven’t read it yet, I invite you to do so.
From my earliest years, I have been on the hunt for wisdom. King Solomon said wisdom is calling us, and all we must do is heed the call (Proverbs 8). I took this literally. I also made the Book of Proverbs a staple in my daily reading. Initially, I believed there were two major keys to acquiring wisdom. First, you must collect as much knowledge as possible. Then, you must do your best to understand it. For most of my life, this was my modus operandi. Yet, something was lacking.
I thought the world would benefit from my vast stores of wisdom. I thought the masses would flock to me for guidance. Okay, maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration. However, I did believe I would be more valuable to the world if I wasn’t a complete fool. All I had was the wisdom found in books. A good thing no doubt, but wisdom is more than book smarts. It is more than theory. If I genuinely want to be wise, I must learn the practical application of wisdom. I must get out of the perpetual classroom that I am living in and get into the experimental aspects.
The world cares very little what you or I know, but it does care a great deal about what you or I do. -Booker T. Washington
Booker T. Washington
Action. It always comes down to action. Or in the case of wisdom, it comes down to application. And this is where I went wrong for the longest time. We know knowledge does us no good if we don’t understand it. And what is the purpose of knowledge and understanding if we don’t know how to use it? We can have a theory about what is in the great unknown, but it is not the same thing as actually venturing into the unknown. We must get out of the classroom and get into the world.
Some of the richest people you will ever meet are not the ones that drive around in the flashy cars, wear the trendiest clothes, or live in the most upscale homes. Nope. Some of the richest people you will ever meet will come and go without giving you any clues to their wealth.
The ones that would flaunt their wealth may not actually be that wealthy. Even if they seem to have money, they might be poor. They might be in an advanced state of materialism which keeps them always chasing after the next latest and greatest shiny object.
It is best for the wise man not to seem wise.
Like the fake wealthy are those that would want you to believe they are wise. They will flaunt their sagacity like a fake Rolex on the wrist. They will seek you out so that you may give them the validation they need. But true keepers of wisdom don’t need the show, they don’t need to seek you out. A true guru doesn’t go looking for students. Instead, it is the other way around. The one who would pursue wisdom will go looking for the guru.
Maybe the idea of faking it until you make it works in some areas. But faking wealth until you have it will leave you with less than you started with. And as for faking wisdom, leave that sport for the fools. Rather than faking, pursue. Do the research. Do the work. Become what you want to be, not a shell of something you are not.
It is said that with pride comes the fall. I have been down that road and chances are, many of you have as well. Humility takes work. And if you are busy working on becoming a better person, when will you have the time for arrogance and conceit. Stay humble. Stay low to the ground. If you do have a fall, you will have a shorter distance to go, and it won’t hurt so bad.
The Fear of the Lord
The priest asked us to close our eyes, and then he asked a question. He said, “How many of you truly love God with all your heart, soul, and mind.” I raised my hand. I could hear others raise their hands as well. We put our hands down and were told to open our eyes. Then another set of questions came:
How many thanked God this morning for another day?
How much time have you spent in prayer?
God gave us one book, how much time do you spend reading it?
Do you give your first fruits or just whatever you have left over?
We were told to close our eyes again and the same question was asked. “How many of you truly love God with all your heart, soul, and mind?” My hand didn’t go up. I don’t think I was alone.
Break down the commandments and we essentially have two: Love God and love your neighbor. Follow those two, and you are good on the original ten. When I think of loving God, I also think of fearing God. Do I really fear God? If I did, would I live like I do now, or would I live differently?
Riches, Honor, and Life
Pride equals a fall.
Sin equals death.
Humility and fear equal riches, honor, and life.
A proud man wants to flaunt his possessions and abilities. He wants the world to notice him. Most likely, he will live above his means. He will cause others to loathe him. Those he offends would love nothing more than to see his demise. They may even try to bring it about themselves.
Once again, humility takes work. It is the work that brings riches, honor, and life. This is Thomas Stanley’s Millionaire Next Door. This is the one that has much but doesn’t draw attention to himself. This is the one that stays low to the ground and does the work.
The results of humility and the fear of the Lord is riches, honor, and life.
I read Historical Fiction. I lived in a make-believe past. I read Fantasy. I went into a fairy tale world. Historical Fiction and Fantasy, with a dabbling of Science Fiction made up the bulk of my reading for over ten years. What do I have to show for it? I can sit for long periods at a time, and I have a rather decent reading comprehension level.
And then one day, about four or five years ago, I picked up some Non-Fiction. I figured with all the reading I do; I might as well learn something. My life has not been the same since. I went from leadership and psychology to health and fitness. Whatever I came across that I felt had the ability to improve my life, I read.
What has been the benefit? Almost every facet of my life has become a little bit better. In my opinion, the transformation has been amazing. I think different, feel different, and may even look a little different. There is a quality of life I imagine living and every day I get a little closer to it. All because I changed what I read about.
Nobody forces me to read. And unless you are in school, nobody is likely to force you to read. It is a choice with a myriad of benefits and very few cons. Regardless of age or ability, there is a wealth of wisdom available to us. The only thing holding us back is us. Make the choice to read. What is the worst that can happen?
Through the eyes of a child, we put our parents on a pedestal. Even an abusive parent will still be loved by the child. The parent is the child’s world, that is all that they know.
As the child gets older, her world gets bigger. She sees the varying ways in which others live. What she imagines as perfect changes. No longer is her narrow scope of reality the only possible way of existence. Now, there are other possibilities. As she grows older and matures, she realizes that it is not an imperfect environment that she lives in, but an imperfection in the people she lives with.
She could live her life in perpetual adolescence, jaded and angry with the world. The hardships she was made to endure by her guardians, she could carry with her until her dying days. It was their fault she turned out the way she did. They denied her the opportunities. They held her back. If only she had parents like those of her friends, it would have all been better, maybe even perfect.
Or she could realize something else. Maybe her parents were not perfect, but they weren’t so bad either. In fact, is there anybody that is perfect? Now as an adult, she realizes they were only human, and humans make mistakes. They do what they believe is right, even when it is wrong. They do what feels good, even when it is harmful. They are not perfect but human, humans deserving of forgiveness. And so, as an adult she gives them what she can: forgiveness.
We can imagine perfection, but we cannot attain it. Aristotle said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” A couple of centuries before that, Confucius said, “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” Our heroine in this story has concluded she is no different than the rest of humanity. And like her parents before her, all she can do is forgive herself for her imperfections. Knowing herself and the extent of her ignorance, she is at the beginning of true wisdom.
The day the child realizes all adults are imperfect, he becomes an adolescent; the day he forgives them, he becomes an adult; and the day he forgives himself, he becomes wise.
The Canadian poet, Alden Nowlan, beautifully illustrates a way to wisdom. It starts with knowing who you are and then forgiving yourself for being that person. After all, we are all human and far from perfect. And though we can be incredibly strict with how we live our lives, demanding more from ourselves than we do from others, there is still room for forgiveness. We can forgive ourselves for our shortcomings and then try our best to overcome them. It is a process that if repeated can get us closer to the person we imagined ourselves to be. This is how we grow. This is how we become wise.
I was maybe ten or eleven, when I first read the following passage from the Bible:
At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”
Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.
Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties.
Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number.
So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this.
So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice,
I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.
Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.”
I Kings 3:5-13
It was one of those first “aha” moments I remember. God told Solomon he could have anything he wanted. What did Solomon ask for? He did not ask for wealth, honor, or riches, but for understanding and wisdom. And God gave him wisdom, maybe more than anybody else. On top of the wisdom, He gave Solomon all the things he didn’t ask for, making him one of the wealthiest kings of history.
At that young age, I thought I found the key to conquering the world. From I Kings and Solomon’s writings in Proverbs, I had the secret formula for wisdom. All I had to do was ask for it. I got down on my knees and with all the might I could muster closed my eyes and prayed, “Oh Lord, I beg you, give me the wisdom of Solomon.” Okay, so I know it was no small request. But if you are going to go big, you might as well go all the way.
For ten years I continued that prayer. And for years, God laughed at me and said, “Foolish child, am I some desert genii here to obey your wishes?” I could imagine his laughter. It wasn’t scorn so much as it was amusement at my silliness. What did I expect to happen? Would I one day wake up to become the sage of this generation?
In time, those prayers were put to the side. I was getting older and other priorities grabbed my attention. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I was reminded of those youthful prayers. After all, it was back in those days that the seeds were planted. And like well-preserved seeds, they began to come to life after a little nourishment.
Are my prayers being answered by God? No doubt, this could be a debatable topic that both sides could argue. Maybe Solomon woke up one day with an extraordinary amount of wisdom, but that doesn’t usually happen to ordinary guys like me. Wisdom is available to the masses, but it doesn’t come without a price. You must work for it. It is earned, not given.
There is a step to wisdom. Over the years I read it over and over, but it took time for it to sink in. Consider these words from Proverbs:
For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. (2:6)
The wise store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin. (10:14)
Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge. (23:12)
Buy the truth and do not sell it —wisdom, instruction and insight as well. (23:23)
Over and over, Solomon repeats these words.
Knowledge and understanding. Plant the seeds of knowledge within your mind. Nourish it with understanding. Reap the fruits of wisdom. Prayer alone won’t do the trick. Wishing with all your might is not good enough. As James Allen said, our wishes and prayers are only answered when they harmonize with our thoughts and actions.
One of the acronyms I will never forget from the Army is SPORTS.
When your weapon jams up, you apply SPORTS to clear the malfunction. Practice SPORTS enough times, and it becomes second nature. You won’t even forget it twenty years later.
Why do soldiers practice it so much? In the heat of battle, you need to make quick decisions. In a fire fight, the last thing you need is a malfunction. When your weapon system goes down, you can’t call a time-out to analyze the situation. You need to be able to get back up and running as quick as possible, and that is why you perform an automatic action that doesn’t require thought.
Let philosophy scrape off your own faults, rather than be a way to rail against the fault of others. –Seneca
The great thing about making the study of truth, better known as philosophy, a daily practice is that it becomes second nature. If it is always in your mind, you are less likely to falter. And when you do falter, when you have the malfunction, you are quick the resolve the error. You are able to scrape off your faults.
What are my issues? I have a few, but one has recently come to the forefront. I spend a lot of time working on my problems. Equally, I do my best not to worry about the faults of others. This may be ideal on an individual level, but it often leaves me with the tendency to mentally isolate from the rest of the world. In my youth, I was quick to make inaccurate assessments of others based on first impressions and a narrow world view. As I got older, I tried to be less judgmental. That is good, but to some degree I became less empathetic towards the problems and needs of others. This is a problem that I am working on. Can I really put myself in someone’s shoes? Can I understand their pain, what they are going through?
Today, I am going to continue identifying areas in my life that need improvement. I am going to work on fixing those. I am going to seek the truth and allow it to work its miracles on me in the scraping off of my imperfections. I am going to clear the malfunction.
Wisdom. Courage. Justice. Discipline. Faith. Hope. Love. The virtues that make us better people are calling. Who will heed the call?
This is the very perfection of man, to find out his own imperfections. –St. Augustine
Does anybody begin life wishing for wisdom? Is that what one wants to be when they get older? Or is it a good job, a big house, lots of money, and of course lots of stuff? And when we come to the end, to our deathbeds, will any of those things matter? Hoping to have it ready available to you in the afterlife, will you bury your wealth with you like the kings of old?
“Yes, getting your wish would have been so nice. But isn’t that exactly why pleasure trips us up? Instead, see if these things might be even nicer—a great soul, freedom, honesty, kindness, saintliness. For there is nothing so pleasing as wisdom itself, when you consider how sure-footed and effortless the works of understanding and knowledge are.” –Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 5:9
Ah wisdom, that which Solomon chose first and foremost when God asked him what he wanted most. Imagine the djinn bursting forth from the lamp granting you any wish you desired, what would you say? Would you choose riches, power, or maybe a long life? Or would you, like Solomon, ask for wisdom? Riches come and go. Power is fleeting. Even a long life eventually comes to an end. But wisdom, it was there in the beginning and will be there in the end.
“How much better to get wisdom than gold! To get understanding is preferable to silver.” –Proverbs 16:16
Yet so often, we go for the riches first. It is the gold we are after, thinking that’s the vehicle that will get us to all the places we want to go. But if going for the riches is our priority, when will we go for the wisdom?
“Riches have shut off many a man from the attainment of wisdom; poverty is unburdened and free from care…After you have come to possess all other things, shall you then wish to possess wisdom also? Is philosophy to be the last requisite in life—a sort of supplement? Nay, your plan should be this: be a philosopher now, whether you have anything or not—for if you have anything, how do you know that you have not too much already?—but if you have nothing, seek understanding first, before anything else. “But,” you say, “I shall lack the necessities of life.” In the first place, you cannot lack them; because nature demands but little, and the wise man suits his needs to nature.” –Seneca, Letter 17:On Philosophy and Riches
My wish is that you would push to become a millionaire. Oh, don’t get me wrong, not exchanging in gold but in the currency of wisdom.
“There is something infinitely better than to be a millionaire of money, and that is to be a millionaire of brains, of culture, of helpfulness to one’s fellows, a millionaire of character –a gentleman.” –Orison Swett Marden, Pushing to the Front
It was weakness on my part for letting it bother me, but in truth I have been guilty of doing the same thing.
Have you ever held information with the intention of increasing your value? Have you ever kept your cards close to the vest rather than share it with the team? I used to work with someone who did. He would keep vital information from the team so that he could deploy it later for his own perceived gains. It made him look foolish, not only to the leadership but to the rest of the team. He had high aspirations of advancement, and in his mind holding that information made him an indispensable member of the team.
It is easy to judge when you are the in the group that is left out. Such an act is truly selfish and keeps the rest of the team from performing at a high level. Have I ever done it? I can’t say I haven’t. I haven’t always been the best teammate. I have sometimes considered personal gain to be more important than the success of the team. He was foolish for doing it, and I have certainly been foolish in the past.
What is the purpose of knowledge? Is it to keep it to one’s self? If it is something that is not used, isn’t it useless? As Aristotle said, “The purpose of knowledge is action, not knowledge.” It is good to have knowledge, even better is to share it. I am not talking about breaking any ethical laws or corporate espionage. Instead, I am saying to share the knowledge you have for the good of the team, for the good of those who would derive benefit from it.
The sage on the mountaintop is no benefit if nobody goes up the mountain, or if he never comes down it. Any knowledge or understanding I have is ready to be shared with any who would hear it. If I have any wisdom, I will gladly pass it on. In fact, that is its purpose. Not only that I can live a good life, but that others may benefit from it as well.
Consider these words from Seneca’s On Sharing Knowledge:
And when you say: “Give me also a share in these gifts which you have found so helpful,” I reply that I am anxious to heap all these privileges upon you, and that I am glad to learn in order that I may teach. Nothing will ever please me, no matter how excellent or beneficial, if I must retain the knowledge of it to myself. And if wisdom were given me under the express condition that it must be kept hidden and not uttered, I should refuse it. No good thing is pleasant to possess, without friends to share it. …Therefore I summon you, not merely that you may derive benefit, but that you may confer benefit; for we can assist each other greatly.
One of my closest friends told me once to break down the barriers that are preventing me from walking my path.
A boss, who I despised and thought incompetent, once told me to control only what is in my control. The rest is out of my hands.
A dear aunt stated that a person’s energy can be seen only if I took the time to look for it.
Through the years there have been those moments when a slice of wisdom passed through another’s lips and took hold within me. Moments that were collected over a lifetime causing me to stop what I was doing and allow the words to be written upon my soul. Moments that molded me into who I am today and who I want to be tomorrow.
It is those moments I seek out, that my very soul longs for. To be blessed by another person freely sharing their wisdom is a gift. It is those gifts that elevates an individual to new heights. As Emerson said, “The best effect of fine persons is felt after we leave their presence.” Long after the conversation has ended, the wisdom remains.
I have read countless books and articles, enjoyed many lectures and podcasts, and viewed numerous instructional videos. The time slips by in study as progress inches along. But can any of them compare to the one-on-one conversations that bring about a greater understanding and a deeper sense of knowledge? In an instant the third eye opens and one wakes to a new light. In an instant, clarity, whereas before only confusion from merely scratching the surface.
A single conversation with a wise man is better than ten years of study. –Chinese Proverb
Consider this Chinese proverb and how relates to all the virtues.
Prudence: Solomon said if you walk with the wise, you become wise (Proverbs 13:20). There is a power in having a mentor.
Temperance: We can make it a practice of having more meaningful conversations. We can spend less time talking about the weather and trivialities of current events.
Justice: This is the path of righteousness. Here we become better individuals and in turn improve the society around us.
Courage: To actively enter these conversations, we have to be bold. Not arrogant, but willing to expose our own inadequacies and learn from those farther along the path.
Faith: Can you see it? The destination up ahead? Visualize it and realize that you too can have this wisdom?
Hope: Dreams become reality, only if we pursue them and put in the work.
Charity: Freely they impart their knowledge to us. Freely we should do the same in return.
We can win in life through these virtues, and it starts with wisdom.