How do we measure wisdom?
How do you know if you’re wiser that the next dude?
How do you know you're wise enough? or not? . . . .
. . . . if you can’t measure wisdom?
Some 4–5 years ago, I got curious about this wisdom thing.
I started reading one chapter of the book of Solomon’s Proverbs per day. The date of the month gives you the chapter to read that day.
I’d done this before, in younger days. But this time, I was going to do it over, and over, and over . . . .
For at least a year.
I would do it in the morning, as was my habit for many years already. I would read no other pre-Gutenberg material. Just Solomon’s Proverbs.
To squeeze every drop of useful juice from a proverb, you have to do it with repetitive focus. Much like a cow chews the cud.
The cow regurgitates already-digested material and chews it further, then swallowing it again. They have four stomachs for this purpose. (There’s lots of good stuff in them thar grass blades, I tell ya.)
A year went by. Then two. I was still at it.
Eventually, I relaxed the restriction to include the book of Ecclesiastes. That proved useful.
Solomon’s Proverbs can breed arrogance. If I chew on these tasty morsels long enough, I’ll reach the Everest’s summit of wisdom, or so you’re tempted to think.
Then in Ecclesiastes, the Teacher tells you, Meaningless, meaningless! It’s all meaningless!
(That’s your pride being knocked into touch.)
Solomon’s Proverbs remain my most-visited piece of ancient literature.
I did eventually reach a place of near-boredom, and would abandon it for short stretches in favour of Deuteronomy, Plato’s Republic, Wisdom, Sirach, and Kings and Chronicles. All highly worthwhile.
Solomon always pulls me back.
Chinese food is brilliant. Everything is cut to bite-sized morsels. No need for fabricated metal forks and knives, so even the poor can eat it with dignity. Just have to find two sticks.
Solomon’s Proverbs are the same.
Most of the contents are arranged as single, bite-sized chunks that teeth and two sticks can handle easily. Context unnecessary.
Um, well, not quite. The context is implied, or supplied by your imagination.
And therein lies Solomon's brilliance. You supply the context.
Which means that on any two days, you can read the same proverb, with your head in two completely different places, and learn two completely different things.
Suspect he planned it that way. Brilliant. No fool, Mr Solomon.
Fools. Ha! Funny thing, that.
Fools were one group of people Mr Solomon really had it in for.
There were many of them.
They got under his skin so bad, he even tried acting like one, to find out if maybe they knew something he didn’t. (Answer: They didn’t. And he advises you not try replicating the experiment yourself.)
Thinking about experiments brings Peter Drucker’s quote about measurement to mind . . .
That which gets measured, gets managed.
Which begs the question:
Wisdom. How do we measure it?
If I’m going to be a student of wisdom, how do I know when I’ve got the Black Belt?
How do I know when I’ve summitted Everest?
Solomon himself makes no attempt to answer the question. Weird.
Or is it?
The Black Belt analogy is a good one. Some 12 years ago, I joined a Tae Kwon Do school. I’d been watching them train, while waiting for my daughters to finish their dance classes.
Childhood memories of being bullied in the schoolyard would come back. Hmmmm.
Impossible. I’m an awkward discumbobulated geek, not a jock.
Geeks do black boxes, not Black Belts.
So what? I started thinking.
So you never get close to Black Belt. Blue Belt gotta be worth SOMETHING, dunnit?
You’ll never learn any self-defence skills warming a chair in the cafe while you wait for the girls to finish dancing.
Fast forward 10 years. The Blue Belt is history, and I have achieved the impossible.
There’s a smile on my face, but it’s wan. Not the smile I thought I’d be sporting.
Because from the top of the mountain, you suddenly get a great view of the range of other peaks you haven’t climbed yet. That’s martial arts for you.
Same goes for wisdom. And that’s only half the story.
Because King Solomon . . . . being King Solomon . . . .
goes and climbs all the other peaks.
And discovers, at the top of the last one . . . . that he’s just climbed Mt Doom. He’s entered the Devil’s Lair. The Belly of The Beast.
There ain’t no summitting the Mt Wisdom without also becoming the most popular man on the planet.
Having become the wisest man on the planet . . . .
. . . . and he was wise enough to know THAT was a dangerous thing to think . . . .
. . . . but that it was also true . . . .
Solomon discovers that he’s a rock star
Everybody wants a selfie with him. Every king and queen wants a piece of his hide.
Kings. Queens. Jacks.
Pretty, rich princesses.
Ohhhhh, so pretty.
And Solomon’s as red-blooded as the next man.
Being Mr Wise Guy does not make you immune to feminine wiles, or to arrogance.
And they are his downfall.
I’m guessing it’s after THIS, that he starts his poetry career.
Because, he says, he really, really wants to teach me to CLIMB Mount Wisdom.
And he also really, Really, REALLY wants me never to summit it.
It’s not about the podium. Nor the finish line.
It’s not about how far ahead of your competitors you are.
The thrill is in the chase.
How do you measure wisdom? Especially your own?
Wrong question, says Solomon, I learned that the hard way.
Just keep climbing.
Don’t look at the summit. Don’t look at your competitors.
Don’t measure. Just climb.
And enjoy the trip.