Alexander Pope wrote many things that sound wise but may not be wise. For example, he wrote, “Know then thyself, presume not God to scan / The proper study of mankind is man.” That humanistic view sounded very good to me until I realized that the study of man leads to a dead end without a concept of intelligent design. Likewise, his statement that “Where ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise” sounds right. However, in my experience, ignorance is never bliss and thus it is never “folly” to seek wisdom.
Along those lines, I have heard people complain that we should leave primitive peoples alone. After all, they have their system that has worked and is working for them. What is the point of bringing them into the modern world? What is the point in civilizing the uncivilized? Are we so-called civilized people happier in our ingenuity and prosperity than they are in their ignorance and poverty? (I was raised the first few years of my life in a condition that would be called poverty today but we never knew we were poor. I have heard many people from the Great Depression era who said that very thing.)
I am reading a book now that addresses the issue, Zane Grey’s “Under the Tonto Rim.” I was surprised to discover that Zane Grey wrote stories other than shoot-em-ups. This one is a sensitively told tale of a young female social worker who goes to live amongst backwoods mountain people to help modernize their lifestyles. The primitive folks do indeed learn a great deal from her, but she also learns a lot from them about unencumbered, raw humanity and what it means to love wholeheartedly.
Grey’s fictional work reinforces my own conviction that education does not always equal wisdom. I have known very bright people who do not have a lick of common sense. Likewise, I have known illiterate people judged by most to be ignorant who are wise as to matters of life, love and friendship. So, how does wisdom differ from knowledge?
That Anglo-Saxon “dom” suffix denotes “judgment,” so that “wisdom” actually means under the judgment of the wise. You see, “doom” actually means “judgment” and that “dom” is just a shortened version of that. “Deem” is a variation of “doom” as in the phrase, “Do you deem that necessary?” The word “deem” in that sentence means “judge,” right? So, whatever is under the judgment of the wise is wisdom.
Solomon of old asked for wisdom and the Lord gave him wisdom in abundance but also many material blessings. Interestingly, the Proverbs, attributed to Solomon, have a great deal to do with defining wisdom, especially in the first few chapters. Perhaps you remember the wise Gamaliel in the New Testament. He advised that if this new Christian sect were just a movement like others he named, it would fizzle. However, if it were of God, be careful. You do not want to go against God. Gamaliel is a case of being very knowledgeable and full of wisdom at the same time. That is a good goal.