“The truly wise understand what they don’t know!” Somewhere along the line someone said that at a time when I was developmentally ready to hear it. Somehow it seems to encapsulate what education is all about. It’s probably a pretty decent summation of what makes for a full and contented life.
It’s when I’ve been pushed outside the comfort of the nest — as an eagle does for her young — that I have learned to fly. Remember swimming lessons? … how hard it was to just jump in? My “personal best” encounter with terror was sky-diving from 15,000 feet.
All such experiences shape us to be the people we eventually become. Surely one of the most profound influences upon my character development and core values was my involvement with an inner-city youth group during my early teens. Otherwise my youth looked pretty much like episodes from Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver or The Donna Reed Show.
My present life in a “desirable” south Minneapolis neighborhood is still pretty much a promo for white, middle class 1950s values. I need to intentionally shake things up from time to keep a grip on reality.
I’m reminded of this necessity every time we take the bus/light-rail to and from the airport rather than a taxi or the airport shuttle. Such forays outside of our comfort zone repeatedly show us a city, even a neighborhood, significantly different from the one that lives in our imagination.
All this came flashing back while reading David Brooks. Here’s what triggered my curiosity about what really made a difference in my education, what’s truly made a difference in my life:
Montaigne once wrote, “We can be knowledgeable with other men’s knowledge, but we can’t be wise with other men’s wisdom.” That’s because wisdom isn’t a body of information. It’s the moral quality of knowing what you don’t know and figuring out a way to handle your ignorance, uncertainty, and limitation.
So how do we get to be wise? By getting outside of our social enclaves of folks just like us. By riding the bus and seeing people who do not aspire to be our clones and whose pursuit of the American Dream is other than our personal narrative. By deliberately entering that “no man’s land” where we feel some cultural turbulence and our preconceived ideas can get shaken-up. It’s when we have our eyes, ears and hearts wide open that we know we are fully alive.
This is hard, even risky. We don’t want to go anywhere or do anything that will challenge our “security”, threaten our “truth”. But a clutched fist cannot receive what others have to give. We squander life’s invitation to understand what we truly don’t know!
We end up worshipping a God of our own creation rather than a God whose creation is beyond our imagining.
The quote is from The Road to Character by David Brooks. New York: Random House. 2015. Kindle edition at #295.