This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, August 2, 2000

August 2, 2000 - What is Wise?

Lately I've been thinking about a question I first ran across when I was in fifth grade. For three syllables, it packs a lot of punch.

What is wise?

My first encounter with this was through Plato. A librarian sent me home one day with a copy of the Dialogs, and I got hooked. The format was clever and engaging. That Socrates was a slippery rascal. He'd ask a few innocent questions, get perfectly reasonable answers, then prove that the answers were utterly foolish. I can't say I always followed just what was going on, but I could tell who was winning. It was sort of like wrestlemania with words.

But that one question really got to me. What does it mean to be wise?

Even today I find myself looking at the people around me and wondering. I know plenty of smart people, by which I mean quick. But some very quick people often seem to lack a basic understanding of the world around them.

I know plenty of learned people -- folks who went to prestigious schools and came back with fancy degrees. Sometimes their knowledge is very broad. They keep up with current events, and can talk about anything. Sometimes their learning is deep, but narrow. I'm thinking of people who spend their whole careers working with just one kind of technology, or specializing in the fifth year of the Tudor reign. Is that wise?

I've even known a few very successful people, by which I mean rich. They own a lot of stuff. But then, I've known some people I would call successful who owned very little. Rich might equal smart, sometimes, but it doesn't necessarily equal wise. On the other hand, wisdom might be a kind of success.

Famous? Puh-lease. O.J. Simpson is famous.

Effective? That seems to get a little closer to the mark. A wise leader, for instance, would be very effective. But it seems to me that he or she would be thinking long term, playing for gains that might not be immediately apparent.

How about loved? Well, I'm not sure that our culture, the American culture, places that much value on wisdom. I'm not sure we recognize it. I'm not sure we reward it. On occasion -- when a business leader focuses on long term rather than immediate return, I think we even punish wisdom. I think Socrates was wise, and he got the death sentence. That suggests that wisdom has NEVER had a lot of admirers.

Then is it desirable? Somehow, for me, it still seems that it is, more desirable than almost anything. It seems to me that wisdom has some element of peace to it, a reckoning of worth -- whether of word or deed -- that brings or finds meaning in the world.

Where do you find wisdom? I'm not sure. I wish I could tell you that all the answers can be found at the library. Many of them can be. But sometimes, you just have to settle for a few good questions.

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