Important (Part 6)

Anyone who has read this blog or my comments anywhere knows that I am absolutely schizophrenic when it comes to wisdom and knowledge.  I have quite the love/hate relationship with the concept of knowledge and education, for its own sake.

One moment I come across as an pompous, know-it-all blowhard.  The next, I’m all Will Rogers, spouting anti-intellectual populism.

But, hey, we don’t all come out of the womb in the form we are now.  Many things have contributed to this strange personality quirk of mine.

Always, always in the back of my mind is the mindset of someone raised in a blue collar family.  I will always have a part of my mind that takes a utilitarian view of education.  One goes to school to learn skills that are applicable for a specific career, along with a few other life skills.  Anything else is just wasting time, the sort of thing rich folks do to keep from getting bored.

The funny thing is, any close examination of Maslow’s hierarchy will tell you that my dad wasn’t too far off from the truth.  I seriously doubt my sharecropper grandfather had too much time or inclination to devote to pondering Jean-Paul Sartre’s theories of existentialism.

Yet, once I entered my teen years, I discovered that not only was knowledge for its own sake fun, but that I had inherited my mother’s gift of being an effective communicator.  People were drawn to what I had to say – and I really loved the feeling of that.

So, I became an “intellectual”, as I understood it at the time.  I purged my southern accent.  I joined the forensics and debate teams.  I read all the great works of literature, kept up feverishly with current events, delved into intense study of the Laws of Logic and the great philosophers.  I never allowed myself to lose an intellectual argument (and this was years before the internet!)

I was, in retrospect, an insufferable little snot.  It’s a wonder my dad did not drop kick me across the living room when I would start pontificating at him like I was God’s gift to knowledge.  He let me know one time that he didn’t appreciate my talking down to him; the funny thing is, I had no idea I was doing it.  It was then that I decided to pull back, and attempt to put knowledge and intellect at the proper place in my life. 

I’m still working to find that perfect balance.

Now that I’m getting older “wisdom” has become more important to me than “knowledge”.  I think that any person over 35 has an innate desire to be seen as wise. (Just as any person under 35 – and beyond – has an innate desire to be considered “attractive”).  An I’m not alone.  Read any blog of a person around or above my age; the tone is that of a wise sage pontificating.  It doesn’t matter the subject or the political bent.  We oldsters flash our nuggets of wisdom as wantonly as drunk coeds flash their breasts at Mardi Gras.  And for the same reason. 

My religion places an utmost importance on study.  Without getting into any debates about sola scriptura, let’s just say that my particular flavor of Christianity has as a fundamental tenet that belief HAS to be informed by study of scripture or it is the blind belief that nonbelievers love to caricature.  We have to know what we believe, and why we believe it.

It amazes me how many people who profess belief in Jesus Christ have very little idea what’s in the Bible.  It also amazes me how dirt poor, uneducated people can possess masters-level knowledge in soteriology, biblical exegesis, eschatology, and other high-minded concepts.

Now that I’m a parent, my relationship with knowledge seems to have come full circle.  We have ordered our household so that learning is just something we do every day.  Instead of Nick and MTV, Discovery and the History Channel rule at our house.  We make regular trips to museums (science and art), and it seems like we are constantly looking stuff up on the internet. (This usually starts with “Dad, why is it that..?” or “Dad, where do xxx come from?” – search engines are really overworked at our house)

Most importantly, Lintilla and I view ourselves as our kids’ primary educators.  Their teachers are subcontractors, but we will always be the primary contractors.  So, our kids take the absolute opposite view of education than I did at their age.  Education is not a means to a career, per se, it’s just something that we do.

But, I also want to pass along a sense of perspective to the children.  Knowledge is AN important thing, but it’s not THE important thing.  Education does not make the heart of man any less evil.  For all our advances in science, technology, and “awareness”, mankind still treats itself pretty much the way it did 3000 years ago or more.  In fact, one must always be careful to weigh an intellectual concept against existing moral concepts.  As Vicktor Frankl (psychiatrist and holocaust survivor) once said:

If we present a man with a concept of man which is not true, we may well corrupt him. When we present man as an automaton of reflexes, as a mind-machine, as a bundle of instincts, as a pawn of drives and reactions, as a mere product of instinct, heredity and environment, we feed the nihilism to which modern man is, in any case, prone. I became acquainted with the last stage of that corruption in my second concentration camp, Auschwitz. The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment–or, as the Nazi liked to say, of ‘Blood and Soil.’ I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some Ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in the lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers.

This is not to say, obviously, that I think that education makes one evil.  I believe that evil is a subtext of human existence.  It is within us all, and we can’t educate ourselves out of it.

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2 Responses to “Important (Part 6)”

  1. Katherine Coble Says:

    We oldsters flash our nuggets of wisdom as wantonly as drunk coeds flash their breasts at Mardi Gras. And for the same reason.

    I take real issue with this. I know you’re trying to be pithy, but I just don’t see it like this. I think when many bloggers write about they’re thoughts they are, like me, trying to make sense of the world, start a dialogue or come to grips with something. It’s a thoughtful process that involves a great deal of deliberation.

    Never having been a drunk coed, never having flashed my breasts in public and never having been to Mardi Gras I can’t speak with certainty about that particular experience. Nevertheless I’ve never completely gotten the impression that those actions required much deliberation, thoughtful process OR attempts to start a dialogue (of an intelllectual sort.)

    You may try to be liked through your wisdom, and you may use your ‘wisdoms’ to draw attention to yourself, as those coeds do. I don’t know.

    But over the years I can safely say that my opinions don’t draw folks to me and I’ve long since stopped hoping they would. Now I just have them for what they are. A chance to start a dialogue of an intellectual sort, to come to grips with something or to make sense of the world.

  2. Katherine Coble Says:

    –their thoughts–


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