by Dean Joyce Feucht-Haviar on January, 2012 – I recall playing as a child under the tree with statues of the three Wise Men. I liked their camels. (My mother had to go looking for them after I took them off on new adventures around the house – it seemed to me that the wise would be inclined to be very adventurous.) Even more, I liked the idea that ancient knowledge led the Wise Men out into the world to follow a star. It seemed important that the wise of their day recognized and traveled far to be a part of the major events of the time.

I miss the presence of such wise men and women in the world—if I watch the news too many days in a row, I really miss them. It seems that we don't aspire to wisdom these days. While there is a remarkable range of capability claims made in the public dialogue, I can't recall anyone seeking major public office hoping to be recognized as wise.

Timed photo of four men standing and talking

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people are so full of doubts."

-Bertrand Russell

I do wonder sometimes why it has come to seem so natural – even admirable – to aspire first and foremost to fortune, fame and power (often regardless of the means used to achieve these ends), and so uncommon to aspire to goals like greater understanding and deeper wisdom.

From my perspective, to be wise is to understand the human condition in all its complexity and that, in turn, is to be profoundly human. It seems to me that becoming wise is essentially an action adventure. Because the wise understand the big questions, the essential values and the real possibilities for the future of the human community, they are driven by the compelling responsibility to act in ways that are consistent with a deeper understanding of what matters in a changing world. I always assumed that the truly wise would know that life and time are far too limited and far to precious to be spent on narrow self-interest or insignificant issues such as fame, greed or power – after all, what can such things possibly mean to anyone who understands that we are all finite and that reaching out to another and making a positive difference in the world is more rewarding and enduring that anything one could own?

The wise that I miss know that acting is perilous. We can never foresee or control the full range of the impacts of our actions – and what we intend to do may be very different from the actual results of what we do, but they would also know that not to act was not an option. They would act with great care, humility, courage and an abiding respect for others.

As I see it, the wise would always recognize that learning never ends. They would recognize that each day offers a wide range of opportunities to see, to learn, to feel and to grow. They would have the personal courage needed to carry on with dogged persistence even when the challenges are many and the path forward is unclear and hazardous, because they would be wise enough to know that helping to shape a positive future full of possibilities for the many matters so much. They would also be wise enough to know that failing to act is itself an act for which one is responsible.

Yes, I do miss the presence of the wise among us. Maybe the wise were always in short supply, but we ourselves were wise enough to value wisdom and aspire to it. Maybe it is that aspiration to wisdom that I miss the most. Perhaps we should try to increase the level of wisdom in our time with one wise act, one wise choice and one wise ethical stand at a time. If we cannot find the wise among us, maybe we can aspire to wisdom ourselves. Wouldn't that be a remarkable thing?