Being Right and the End of Wisdom

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January 2018

Being Right and the End of Wisdom

Being Right and the End of Wisdom

By Amy Ekeh

Bell bottoms, encyclopedias, cursive, dinosaurs. Things that aren’t around much anymore. 

Will we soon add “wisdom” to this nostalgic list?

Wisdom is the fruitful combination of experience, knowledge and good judgment. It is a dynamic thing; wise people are dynamic. They learn, grow, adapt, change their minds, take forward and backward steps. Wise people are interesting. They have something valuable. It is sometimes a gift but more often hard-earned.

Emerging from experience and learning, wisdom is an inherently slow-growing thing. But have we lost patience for its cultivation? Has our tolerance for the fluidity of wisdom dried up in hopes of something solid and firmly defined? Has it become more admirable to be right than to be wise? Is it better to “come on strong” than to come on . . . thoughtful? Is it more admirable to “stick to your guns” than to muddle your way through that cloudy, sticky, murky, stubborn, ever-present but oft-denied gray area? That gray area is life.

We like black and white; we crave clarity; we devour rules. We want to be right, and we like people who are right. Increasingly, we like people who are right quickly. Slow and deliberate seems out of pace. Changing one’s mind is weakness.

But what did the ancients think? Biblical wisdom is not first and foremost about being right. It is an approach to life—how to navigate the intersection of spiritual and secular, how to get along with people, how to make decisions, how to respond to the problems we encounter every day. Wisdom values work, relationships and dialogue. It points one toward the fruitful paths of life. Wisdom includes knowledge, and a wise person is often “right,” but wisdom is much more. 

The wisdom tradition presents us with an outlook found throughout all of scripture: human beings are not perfect, but they are remarkable. Where they are lacking, they can change and be better. They are not often “one or the other.” They are more often “both and.” Human beings—and their endeavors—are redeemable.

Wisdom, then, is not cut-and-dried, right or wrong. It is not simple and one-note. It seeks a “breadth of understanding” (1 Kgs 4:29) and acknowledges that human understanding is a process, and often a slow one (even Jesus, we are told, grew in wisdom). A major contribution of the wisdom book of Proverbs is the assertion that wisdom is learned, and learning requires guidance, and guidance requires humility. This natural humility of the learner, the disciple, is a fading virtue in a world that increasingly heaps skepticism on the possibility that “the other” may have something to teach us, that another person or community may have superior knowledge, experience, understanding or wisdom. When this humility is absent, very little real learning takes place—even less understanding, and certainly no wisdom. Proverbs offered this warning centuries ago: the one who refuses counsel, guidance and instruction will face the consequences of a simple, static, stagnant life.

Unlike the simple notion of being right or correct, there is an ebb and flow to wisdom that mirrors life and relationships. Indeed, the ancients believed that we are supposed to learn and grow and change. The only thing we were meant to be entrenched in is the natural human rhythm of transformation fueled by dynamic concepts like searching, repenting, returning, proclaiming, trusting and abiding. 

A lovely passage from the deuterocanonical book of Wisdom declares that wisdom “renews all things; in every generation she passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God, and prophets” (7:27). Friends of God and prophets.  Surely we could use more of these. Then we must choose a slower, more thoughtful, more receptive, more conversant, humbler, subtler, more nuanced way. Yes, this way of wisdom offers a gentle antidote to our excesses of speed, activity, polarization and bluster, in a human community at risk of losing its grip on intimacy, reflection, quiet, intrapersonal intelligence and interpersonal relationships. If wisdom was the architect of creation (Prov 8:30), might we benefit from utilizing her blueprint? 

Our world does not have a King Solomon, or a King Arthur, or a single person of legendary wisdom. We only have each other, and the biblical promise that those who seek wisdom can find her, and that those who have found her have found a treasure. Being right can be helpful, but being wise is life-giving. It heals and begets in a way that being right never could. An echo of the iconic Tree of Life, whose roots run from front to back of our ancient books, wisdom bears many kinds of fruit, and her leaves are for the healing of the nations (Prov 3:18; Rev 22:2).

Amy Ekeh is the author of two volumes of the Alive in the Word series: Lent, Season of Transformation and the upcoming Advent, Season of Divine Encounter.  A freelance writer, blogger (, and retreat director, Amy is an instructor in the Catholic Biblical School in the Archdiocese of Hartford. She and her husband and four children live in Connecticut.

We are happy to announce that two new volumes of Alive in the Word will arrive from the printer this month:

Barnabas, Man for OthersBarnabas, Man for Others, offers an engaging portrait of one of Jesus’ earliest followers by focusing on three key passages from The Acts of the Apostles. The author, Jerome Kodell, OSB, has a heart for this leader who was willing to serve rather than be served and chose to allow the latecomer Paul to take center stage in the missionary life of the church.

Grief, Finding Hope in SorrowGrief, Finding Hope in Sorrow, deals with inevitable sorrows of life in light of a faith that knows God’s accompanying presence. Laura Kelly Fanucci has written a series of reflections relying on passages from Ruth, the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation. This is a rich resource for those experiencing all kinds of loss.

Come to Little Rock for this year’s annual Bible Institute, June 15-17, 2018. More detailed information will be posted on our website and Facebook page in the coming month.

“A Lively Sense of God”:
Treasuring the Old Testament Witness to God
Brother John Barker, OFM

Little Rock Scripture Study

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