In Our Age of Shape-shifting, Where Is Wisdom?

16 Jun

In Our Age of Shape-shifting, Where Is Wisdom?

I began this day engaging three ideas that are still bouncing around in my head. One of the ideas is ancient, from the tradition of Scripture. The other two are as current as you can imagine–although I describe one as a word from tomorrow, the other as a word from yesterday.

The first, which I read early in the morning, is from the apocryphal Book of Wisdom.

“God of my ancestors, Lord of mercy, you who have made all things by your word and in your wisdom have established humans to rule the creatures produced by you, to govern the world in holiness and justice and to render judgment and integrity of heart, give me wisdom. Send her forth from your holy heavens and from your glorious throne dispatch her that she may be with me and work with me. For she knows and understands all things and will guide me and safeguard me.”

A short time later I flipped on C-Span to catch my favorite weekend book discussions. I was just in time for Susan Wojcicki’s (CEO of YouTube) commencement address at Johns Hopkins University. Her message: the times are a’changing so fast that the graduates must be prepared for the ground they are standing on to take on significant new shapes right under their feet. A few of her admonitions: make your plans in pencil, not ink, so you can change them quickly; the job you should seek may not even exist today. Most of all, remember: “You can be the crazy kid who changes the world.” I might add that at age 45, Wojcicki ranks high on several lists of Most Powerful Women, with a net worth of more than $300 million.

C-Span also furnished the third idea: Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings’ address to the graduates of Southern Methodist University. Rawlings, who was CEO of Pizza Hut prior to becoming mayor, was much more conventional and preacherly than Woicicki, and he dispensed solid advice about learning, leadership, and love. He began his remarks: “I’m still on my long journey and it’s been a wonderful one,” and ended with “Travel well my friends on your journey and never forget, have fun while you are doing it.”

Wojcicki is clearly tomorrow’s child, as refreshing as anyone I have heard lately–be prepared, she says, that everything will be different from what you expected. The mayor of Dallas is an achiever, too, but he sounds like the very best of yesterday’s children. Things may be tough on your journey, he says, but basic values like leadership, learning, and love will get you through. A much safer world, even comfortable in its way. Tough I might be able handle, totally unpredictable shape-shifting is something else.

Now the words from Wisdom. It’s addressed to God: “You have called us humans to be responsible for what you created, to govern the world in holiness and justice. Frankly, we’re not up to it, because we lack wisdom–no lack of technical skill or motivation–but comprehension and judgment. Send wisdom to me that she may be with me and work with me.”

There’s no attempt to turn back the future–it’s God’s creation. There’s no attempt to tame the spinning, shape shifting of the world. There is also no exhortation to tough it out and “have fun.” The Wisdom writer recognizes that there is more at stake here than toughing it out and more than keeping up with the spin so that we can change the world. There’s the recognition that we are responsible for governing this world–and to do so with holiness and justice.

The two commencement addresses are devoted mainly to encouraging the graduates to get into the game, run in the competition–something the grads are probably eager to do anyway. They are not calling for modesty and wisdom. Yet wisdom is so clearly needed. What is technology for? Or business or government? How are we to chart our future in the midst of the mind-boggling plurality of our society?

Here, I’m just raising the issue. Where is wisdom in our public discussion? Perhaps enigmatically, In a prayer, I also offered this praise to God–“You add days and years to our lives, in order to bring us to wisdom.”

Phil Hefner

7 Responses to “In Our Age of Shape-shifting, Where Is Wisdom?”

  1. Karl Peters June 17, 2014 at 12:28 am #

    Thanks Phil. This gets to the heart of the matter of the meaning of our lives!

    • philnevahefner June 17, 2014 at 1:00 am #

      Yes, I thought so, too, Karl. I like the idea that we grow older for a purpose.

  2. Esther Shir June 18, 2014 at 3:17 am #

    Thanks a lot, Phil. I’ve heard similar sentiments expressed in various commencement speeches over the past few years…but the message from the Book of Wisdom is the one that captures me. How will we, as a species, get the necessary wisdom to sustain our planet? Have you heard of the Sarvodaya movement in Sri Lanka? Here’s a very brief description: The Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement introduced unique people-centered, holistic development model to the World with a universal philosophy. They have a FB page and a web page ( First heard of the movement in a book by Joanna Macy (World as self, world as lover).
    I think this particular blog is very important because you don’t deny the truth of the other two ideas–but it is Wisdom that will make those ideas and life itself possible on our planet.
    Thanks, as always!

    • philnevahefner June 18, 2014 at 6:39 pm #

      Yes, we shouldn’t demean new developments. My 10 year-old granddaughter is building robots and having them wrestle with other robots–they’re called LEGO Sumobots. This at summer camp! Sarvodaya sounds worthy. Thanks for the link.

  3. Richard Busse June 18, 2014 at 12:40 pm #

    It’s hard to imagine that wisdom will actually enter political discourse as the country seems to be more polarized than ever, according to the latest Pew poll. Yet blogs like yours and the unknown conversations folks have about how to live on the planet gives some hope that humans may figure out how to live with each other in a sustainable way. Sorry I’ve lost touch with you the past few years. Hope to reconnect more.

    • philnevahefner June 18, 2014 at 6:35 pm #

      Good to hear from you, Rick. Hope things go well, and that we can be in touch. Yes, wisdom is hard to come by today, but I like your hopeful comments about the grassroots–a lot of bad things (e.g. Sovereign Nation movement, in Chicago news today), but also many good things at grassroots.

  4. Richard Busse June 19, 2014 at 12:45 pm #

    Ok. I’m on your blog list now so we can stay in touch that way.

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