In search of wisdom


Who would presume to have wisdom? Defined in Webster, wisdom is "the quality of being wise, knowledgeable, and the capacity to make use of it." How does one get this wisdom? Who's selling it? Where does it come from? I would be reluctant to presume I have any. Folly can masquerade itself as wisdom. Still, we baby boomers pursue it. It seems we were born with the instinct to seek it out among the rubble of life. To plow through a garden of weeds until we uncover it. No, we're not the first generation to take on this search, but we are the largest and most educated, placing a special burden on us to seek out the qualities and things one might look for to become wise, and try to make use of that knowledge. Try. A wise old sage once told me trying is lying. You either do it, or you don't. The older I get, the more sense that seems to make. Trying never quite gets you there.

We first sought out wisdom in drugs. Ah, the sixties. Sex, love, drugs, and rock and roll. A precarious combination, at best. Drugs were thrown into the mix primarily because of LSD. Lysergic acid diethylamide, acid, LSD for short. LSD first made its appearance in 1938, developed by Albert Hofmann for Sandoz Labs, in Switzerland. It was to be used for psychiatric treatment. Eventually, the U.S. military and CIA became interested in the drug for devious reasons. Timothy Leary, Ph.D., and Richard Albert, Ph.D., who were both Harvard professors, became interested in seeing if the drug might help those seeking spiritual awareness and growth. That was the last of the fifties, early sixties. Albert remains alive today and is known as Ram Dass, a respected contemporary spiritual leader. LSD is a hallucinogen, as is peyote. They are both substances that alter consciousness, referred to as mind-altering, mind-expanding drugs. They, like every drug, change the way your brain works. For instance, under its influence, one might be able to smell colors, see music. Like any drug, it harbors many potential problems. Hallucinogens have been used by various cultures for thousands of years. Generally, shamans and medicine men or women would take a hallucinogen, most frequently peyote, as a way to understand and heal people, tapping into a different reality from the one we are accustom to. In the sixties, the cultural context for using hallucinogens was absent. Its use was recreational, which greatly increases the dangers. When you change realities, you had better be standing on firm ground, least you think you have gone crazy. Thinking you can fly and jumping off a ten-­story building quickly brings you back to the reality we all recognize. We rationalized most of our recreational use, seeing it as a pursuit of wisdom. That was probably, and most usually ends up being, a problem.

When the drugs don't work, try gurus. Enlightened ones. People who seem to "get it." Unfortunately, the Midwest was not full of gurus. You had to go to the East or West coasts. Better India. I wasn't quite that venturesome. While at Southern Illinois University, my first real "guru" was my advisor in the sociology department. A Marxist sociologist. Wouldn't you know it. It would have helped my success if he'd been a Milton Friedman economist, but then, any fish can go with the flow. Even a dead one. So I took the road less traveled. That suits my personality. Capitalism cannot work as it is theorized. Big business will not regulate itself. Greed is too powerful. I guess my first guru wasn't so crazy after all. I'm back in vogue.

My third "guru" was a world renowned teacher of pacifism and nonviolence at Bethany Theological Seminary. He was the one who showed me that war and killing are not conducive to peace and conciliation, and are not consistent with the word of Christ. I have carried that message now for 38 years. If a guru is one to enlighten you and show you the way, he surely qualified.

I went to graduate school at the age of thirty. I was lucky to get in. My undergraduate grade-point was not very impressive. The director of the program took me in because of my possibilities, and the fact that I had fifteen psychiatrists as references. A Masters Degree in Family Therapy. Seemed impressive at the time, but was never a big money maker. Anyway, the director taught systems theory, which he believed was necessary to know if you were to become a family therapist. A concept used in many different fields, for family therapy, systems theory requires you to look at the whole, not the parts. So for a family, the whole equals more than the sum of the parts. While you don't want to lose sight of the parts, you want to treat the whole. Ends up, systems theory helped me to look at everything, from politics to the pulpit, as more than the sum of its parts. The last thing the director of this program would like to be called is a guru. I hope no one shows him this babble.

Boomers are getting older. We should be getting wiser, by most counts. But maybe we are still too young. Maybe we're still dabbling in the wrong areas. Maybe we just haven't quite got there yet. Wisdom takes time. Worse, when you find some, you have to know what to do with it. You can't just try to put it to good use. Trying is lying.