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The other day I was at a party, sorting through the candidates in the upcoming primaries, when out of the blue my friend Dave says, "You know what we need? We need a president who has more than positions—we need a president with wisdom."
For a moment I found myself speechless. On the one hand I had to nod in agreement—but on the other, I realized that even though I was an educated Urban Man, I probably wouldn't know wisdom if it came up and bit me on the nose.
I mean, here in L.A. we get pretty good at recognizing raw talent, sparkling charisma, artistic genius, technical skill, and financial savvy. We're always bumping into street smarts and organizational know-how. We can call an agency to locate a good eye or a ready wit.
But wisdom? What is that…exactly? And hasn't it become, well, obsolete?
Most of us figure wisdom was some wordy and overly careful thing. Some tedious and hidebound animal. Probably wisdom implied some kind of "balanced approach." No doubt it forgave grudges and canceled debts. Possibly it leaned forward into the new without forgetting the old. Cared about people, not just process. At the very least, I'm sure it was obsessed with the unintended consequences of otherwise brilliant acts.
All in all, a recipe for failure.
Your Lew Wassermans and Donald Trumps didn't get rich by exercising wisdom. They busted paradigms and thought out of the box—while wisdom probably was the box. I notice that even religious leaders now avoid the term, rightly preferring issues and music. And Lord knows, no one becomes president by worrying about unforeseen consequences or looking at both sides of things.
Back at the party, Dave was now talking a blue streak about wisdom. I considered interrupting him to say, "Surely, the word itself now begs re-definition. Surely boldness has become wisdom. Impatience has become wisdom. Youth has become wisdom.
What use is, say, accumulated knowledge when anyone can access all earth's information at the touch of a button? Or, if necessary, hire a consultant?"
Still, my friend had got me to thinking, and after I started home, I found myself pulling off the freeway and joining the holiday crowds at the nearest enormous bookstore, where I went looking for volumes published by the leading candidates, just in case they held something, you know, wise.
Unfortunately, I only got a few feet into the store when I got distracted by the glut of nasty advice from talk show hosts and calendars with cheerful sayings. Then I got sidetracked by the pundits on the current affairs aisles, the personal fulfillment gurus on the self-help shelves, and the self-made men in the business motivation section.
All pretended to wisdom, but mostly they were just…clever.
Then lo, I found the table of books by the candidates themselves, where I read of their humble origins and advice from their various grandmothers. I listened to their hope, their daring, their backbone, and their fresh vision. I piled the books into a little pyramid consisting of smiling faces, chummy words, and the courage to believe in the American people.
It didn't amount to much, but like my friend Dave, I began to feel a vague but nostalgic longing. In fact, raising my nose, I was sure I could detect the sweet, but only half-remembered scent of wisdom sleeping, well, somewhere in the bookstore—or who knows, maybe within the nation itelf.
Outside it was getting late, and as the parking lot filled with bright headlights and unintended consequences, the Urban Man climbed in his car and headed home.
Copyright © 2007. Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved.
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