Thursday, November 08, 2007

Family Wisdom

I've been reading many books, lately, that try to describe what Wisdom is. It seems to be a recurring theme, in my choices.

I use the Serenity Prayer almost every day. "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference."
It is the Wisdom part that I have trouble with, at times.

All I know is that I know nothing
." ― Socrates

So, this morning, I looked up the study of Wisdom. I found an article on Wisdom written in February of 2004. I discovered the study of Wisdom is sometimes called Sophology. And I read the more Wisdom one thinks one has, the less one really does.

"It is unwise to be too sure of one's own wisdom."...Gandhi

I discovered there is a lot of differences in the study of Wisdom. There are religious traditions, there is folk wisdom, there is over-the-fence type wisdom, and there is kitchen table wisdom.

Over-the-fence wisdom seems to deal mainly with gardening; there are also references to philosophical discussions about any subject neighbours wish to discourse upon. Folk Wisdom...well, these are homilies which are familiar to anyone who grew up with families that used them. For instance..."Red sky in the morning, sailors' take warning; Red sky at night, sailors' delight."

There are many such. I discovered that these sayings don't necessarily translate well into English from another language. I remember a lot of these German sayings from my youth; they made perfect sense to me when I was still thinking in the German language, still bound by the German culture; now some of these are just odd.

And yet...there is tradition in these folk sayings. People relate to them. They mean something, something that has been handed down through the ages. I know I don't use folk sayings when I talk with my family; it has been lost to me, this art of having a wise saying right at my fingertips. A saying that would fit any situation with equanimity.

The elder generation committed these folk Wisdoms to memory; I don't remember doing the same.

My favourite way to hand down familial Wisdom is that which is discussed around the family kitchen table. This, to me, is kitchen table Wisdom. This is where my family heard the woes and joys that made up a day; here is where we solved and celebrated them. Here is where we shared and listened.

We still do this tradition, my granddaughter, my daughter and I. One day Graydon, too, will be included, when he is old enough to voice his thoughts and opinions. Even now, his opinions are definitely heard!

On Wednesdays, I travel to my daughter's home, early in the morning. Early enough to visit with my granddaughter for almost an hour, before I drive her to school. And then, I go back and watch my daughter and her son go through their morning routine. It is a highlight of my week; this opportunity to share Wisdom which has been given to me for a relatively short period of time. I intend to use it to the utmost.

It will be over when my daughter returns to teaching, after maternity leave. We will have to be more creative, at this point, to find time to touch each other's Spirit.

"Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something." ― Plato

Our time together will have to be quality time; the telephone and the computer will be used to continue to share stories. These are the backbone of family heritage...these words we share are important. Regardless of circumstances, we must continue to make time to share the joys and sorrows.

"Certain qualities associated with wisdom recur in the academic literature: a clear-eyed view of human nature and the human predicament; emotional resiliency and the ability to cope in the face of adversity; an openness to other possibilities; forgiveness; humility; and a knack for learning from lifetime experiences." The Older-and-Wiser Hypothesis by Stephan S. Hall

Those life time experiences Mr. Hall mentions in the above quotation are the ones that build around the kitchen table. Sometimes, I feel as if I am floundering, once again going into my head alone. And on Wednesdays, my daughter will take the tangled knots, and straighten them out for me. Wisdom does not only belong to the elders.

Mr. Hall, in his essay in the New York Times, says it is easier to define what Wisdom isn't, rather than what it is. He writes that psychologists, after thirty years of the study of Wisdom, still don't agree on an answer. But he gives a very good account of the beginning and continuing study of Wisdom and why it is essential to the future of society.

Where would I be without the Wisdom contained in the family stories? The stories of experiences in the family and how they were handled, as messy as the telling might be, gives enormous connection to each other. By sharing and questioning, being open to answers, choices become more apparent.

Forgiveness, then, follows from the discussion of the subject, the questions that are answered...the tears that are shed. There is Wisdom in the shared knowledge of the experiences of each other, in similar situations.

Around the kitchen table... this is where family Wisdom grows.

As for the study of Wisdom? Well, as Stephen Hall so aptly writes, the journey may be as enlightening as the destination.

And at the end of all my research, what Wisdom is, and how I learn it, is still a mystery.


  1. Another splendid post. I enjoy your blog more and more each day.

    To me, wisdom is truth so pure that it whispers to the heart and speaks to the soul.

  2. What a great post. I think that sometimes the wisdom that is passed down in a family does not come in words. When my parents came to visit recently, after not having seen them in years, due to our travels... I noticed how much we have in common, how I react to things, my thoughts, I don't know so much. Like how to deal with frustration, how to discipline, how to love. I don't know if that makes any sense at all.

  3. Does wisdom come with age or experiences or the ability to use both to learn and then pass it on to others?

  4. "It is unwise to be too sure of one's own wisdom."...Gandhi

    So true -- whenever I start to think I've wised up, that's about the time I get some kind of comeuppance. I think the best we can hope for is to be seekers of wisdom, and while seeking sometimes we're able to impart to others a bit of what we learn along the way, as needed.

  5. Joe,

    That was beautifully worded. Thank you.

    I think wisdom for me is to step outside of myself and understand another point of view, and another, and another. With no judgement...just understanding. And awareness.And experience...Wisdom is such an amalgam of so many emotions.


    I saw myself in my parent's actions, and I didn't necessarily admire those actions. But I picked up many ideas and emotions from them that I changed later in life, as I grew more aware of who I wanted to be. Some were very ingrained and difficult to remove; others I just kept, lol.

  6. Marion, what you said about your daughter's visits struck a cord with me. I feel I can learn so much from my children too. The connection so long in development has paid off in a closeness I hope to keep all the rest of my days. Yet, we see some older people seemingly demand respect, saying "look to me for I am old and have much wisdom to impart to you."

    Doesn't work that way. Your thoughts were well voiced.

  7. Davem,

    I'm not sure. Definitely, the experts study gerontology to see if Wisdom comes with age and experiences. But there are children who are wise...where did they get the experience to become so?

    When I started this post, I had no idea how much it would confuse me, in the end. Vivian Clayton, who began to study what wisdom meant, and how age affects it in the seventies...left the subject because of the abstraction of it. She raises Bees as a hobby, and is now a geriatric neuropsychologist.

    She gravitated to more practical approaches. Made me feel a little better that I couldn't get my head around this subject.


    Thank've put the whole thing in a nutshell for me! I shall be a seeker of far better for me than the study of wisdom!

    And you're so soon as I feel I've got something nailed, the Universe throws a loop my way.

  8. Sheila,

    It really doesn't work that way!

    In the Berlin Wisdom Project, Mr. Hall states that of the 700 people assessed they never found a single person who gained top scores. And they found, in four different studies, that wisdom does not necessarily increase with age.

    I find children far wiser these granddaughter can astound me with her approach to life. Wisdom pours out of her, even during the usual teenage angst.

    I treasure the connection between my children and is a pond of wisdom that is continually replenished by life's experiences.

  9. I enjoyed this post. And those wonderful faces.

    There is so little written and said today about wisdom of the ages and so much about scientific knowledge of the now (which very well might be proved wrong tomorrow.)

    The wisest people are so often the most humble.

  10. The words written here are some of the world's best examples of wisdom. You demonstrate to us what a wise person is. You have the knack to relate to the common day occurances and make them your life. The old addage "To know and not do is not knowing." You DO, when you have the knowing and you show us how you have did it and it becomes a teaching session right here in blogland.
    When I look up wisdom in the dictionary it says "Marion"

  11. Very ... complex.

    I hope to be wise one day.

    Miss T

  12. I believe that some wisdom may be innate, and that the mystery is finding the key to unlock that potential.
    Thanks for posting such a thought-provoking blog.
    In Love And Light,
    Willow Myrina.

  13. Wisdom has always seemed to me (without looking it up) to be more than just knowledge; maybe a kind of informed knowledge. That is, knowledge gained from experience but with a bit of a lesson attached-- icing on the cake.
    But I have found that you must mostly keep it to yourself lest others think you to be a "smarty pants"! ha

  14. Jan,

    Mr. Hall states that "a general thread running through modern wisdom research is that wise people tend to be humble and "other-centred" as opposed to self-centred".

    I think that wise knowledge can be handed down in groups, such as a family. Or clubs, organizations. The trick is to know innately when to impart that knowledge in a wise manner.


    You've left me speechless! What a wonderful compliment, thank you. Sometimes, when things go well, I think I might have handled whatever situation wisely; other times I know I haven't used wisdom at all!

  15. loved this post. loved the quotes in between. so many wise men shared wise words yet few go beyond.

  16. Sayings that have passed down through the years should not be dismissed lightly, in my opinion. It seems to me that if there was no truth in them, they would have been forgotten. Occasionally someone will dismiss such and such a saying as an 'old wives tale', sometimes citing a scientific paper which refutes it. Well, scientific papers are all very well but they do not always give a totally accurate picture of things. I place just as much store in the wisdom of old wives.

  17. Miss T,

    You already are, my friend! One can't view the world as you do, and not have a large amount of wisdom close at hand.


    Well put! You're an example of youth and wisdom. Thank you for's nice to see you.


    That's wisdom in a nutshell, to me...that keeping it to yourself stuff. Sometimes, I watch others in a situation, knowing intuitively what the outcome will be if they continue, and having to shut my mouth. It is not my path, after all. Unless I am asked, I try hard not to offer any words of wisdom. I know I wouldn't like it, if the tables were turned.

    I think people all have to learn the way to wisdom themselves.


    I found some advice in my research which stated wisdom can be found by reading books of quotations. It really is amazing the amount of wise words handed down.

  18. Simon,

    Great comment! I don't know if you read German; some of those sayings I linked to in the post are spoken with a wry sort of humour.

    They make a great deal of sense, in that context.

    Would you be trying to call me an "old wife"? hee hee...If you were, I appreciate the compliment, lol!

  19. In a word, inspirational. A truly great post!

    Thanks so much for helping make the first Surfer's Paradise Hullabaloo! Carnival a success.

    Hoping you'll be a regular contributor.

  20. Great post Marion. I always think wisdom comes from life and family experiences. I believe everything happens for a reason in this life, even if it doesn't always seem that way at the time.

  21. No - my comment was not meant personally, Marion! I think we're both about the same age - just past the first flush of youth. :)

  22. The Serenity prayer is special to me too.

    Graydon is sooo cute :)

    The more I learn the more I realize how little wisdom I have.

    Love the photos.