A friend recently remarked that it’s those that gather and control data that own the future. I understand what he meant (I think), but, if we dig a bit, I suspect we would doubt that the data-controllers of the day, however intelligent they are, have what we would call wisdom.
Education today is ordered toward participation in the global economy. This means that those that are able to retain necessary information and translate it into profitable use are “well educated”. We think in systems today, which is why the analogy of “brain surgery” and “rocket science” are equivalent to being really smart. Brains and rockets appear to be complex systems, so anyone who can master them must be intelligent.
A rocket scientist can be a master of rockets and still lack wisdom. Rockets – and things dealing in data, information, and systems in general – are made up of parts. Growth in wisdom is growth in wholeness. A brain surgeon may know how to operate on his wife’s brain, but he may not yet be able to love her as he ought. This is a dis-integration in his life, a failure of the parts to join to a whole.
For ourselves, and certainly for our children, what we want is wisdom. We want a grasp of the whole; a taste of the way God sees things, and not just mounds of facts. We want the peaceful integration of the things of life. And, since so much of us battle the sense that the different parts of our life are vying for a slice of the pie (fighting for a slice?), we need the wisdom of an integrated life more than ever.
This is a religious and philosophical reality, because it deals in ends, the purpose of life. Though commercials and pundits may joke that we have yet to discover the purpose of life, the wise man already knows it, even if he has yet to reach it perfectly. The purpose of life is happiness. We all want it. Everything we do is to reach it. Few of us do. The wise reach it. Unhappy rocket scientists may be intelligent, but they are not wise.
This is why preparation for the global economy and a preoccupation with knowing many disconnected facts does not equal true education. This is the scientific and technological approach to life, neither of which are bad things in themselves, but they cannot give what they do not have – they deal in parts when we long for wholeness. It is philosophy and religion that are able to see things as they are in their wholeness. “Science takes things apart to see how they work,” says Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. “Religion puts them together to see what they mean.”
This all came to me recently when a young man from Canongate Catholic High School approached me and said, “Mr. Craig, I think I have a poem you would like.” (I’m not sure how many teenagers you know who read good poetry, let alone recommend certain ones to friends, but I was eager to listen.) It was Happiness, a poem by Carl Sandburg, whose home is nearby mine:
I ASKED the professors who teach the meaning of life to tell
me what is happiness.
And I went to famous executives who boss the work of
thousands of men.
They all shook their heads and gave me a smile as though
I was trying to fool with them
And then one Sunday afternoon I wandered out along
the Desplaines river
And I saw a crowd of Hungarians under the trees with
their women and children and a keg of beer and an
I’m not sure what it is that those that control data really “own,” but I do not think it is happiness. I bet those Hungarians with their families and beer knew much more of happiness. And I bet they, like the young man who had the sense of who I am and what happiness is, had wisdom.
Jason Craig works and writes from St. Joseph’s Farm in rural North Carolina with his wife Katie and their five kids. Jason is Director of Program and Training for Fraternus, a mentoring program for young men, and holds a masters degree from the Augustine Institute. He is known to staunchly defend his family’s claim to have invented bourbon.