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Wisdom

Originally posted online on December 26, 2002 – reposted because the original site is no longer current

In August, 2002, members of the graduating class at the Humanist Institute asked their class mentors, Harvey Sarles and me, to speak for three to five minutes on the topic of “wisdom.” Here is what I shared that evening:

In 1993 or 1994, I wanted to learn how to design web sites. So I took a few quotations from my long-developing collection of quotes, put them up on a free web site, and called the page “Wisdom Quotes.”

Three months later, I learned about a new style of page counters (which measure how many people look at a web page), so I practiced by putting one up on the Wisdom Quotes site. A few months later, I remembered that I’d put the counter there and looked to see what the count was. I was shocked: 500 people a week were reading that page!

The page has since grown and evolved into its own web site, and the number of readers has grown quite significantly — but I still remember and treasure that early surprise at its popularity.

There is a hunger in the world for wisdom — and I don’t think it is found, really, on a web site, or a bumper sticker, or in any book.

These ten students, whose passion and dedication have moved me for three years, are wise and I commend them to you as humanist leaders.

But being wise is not a destination. It is a journey. Wisdom which is not continually developed becomes mere dogma.

So, to you who are now graduating, I charge you: develop your wisdom continually.

A few more words on wisdom:

1) Wisdom requires knowledge — from reading, from listening, from experimenting, and from analyzing what you read and hear and experience.

2) Wisdom requires ignorance — if you don’t know that you don’t know, you can’t learn, can’t grow, can’t adapt to our ever-changing world. You must e willing to entertain the idea that you might be — often are — wrong. Ignorance inspires questions, which lead to wisdom.

3) Wisdom requires individuality — knowing and acting out of personal wholeness and maturity.

4) Wisdom requires community — I could not have been the teacher I’ve been without mentors and colleagues like Howard Radest, Sarah Oelberg, Joe Chuman and Harvey Sarles. I am delighted that a co-mentor of the next class, Rebecca Armstrong, is a graduate of this Institute, from the last class I mentored. Each of you as students has taught me much. Pass on the wisdom and power — keep it flowing.

5) Wisdom requires discipline — work, persistence and intentionality are important.

6) wisdom requires playfulness — without the ability to play, you lose your sense of wonder and awe, you become captive to convention and the naysayers, and you lose your ability to imagine something the world has never seen before.

7) Wisdom requires time — time to reflect, time to step back, time to get calm, time for silence.

8) And wisdom requires brevity — the wisest often speak in memorable aphorisms. Enough said.

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