A few years ago, the church I served in Manchester hosted the African Children’s Choir. I loved the athleticism of their dance, the vibrancy of their costumes and the spiritual uplift of their singing. We housed them for a few days and were charmed by the children, but also by their chaperones, “aunties” who had once been choir members themselves.
These chaperones had traveled to America several times and were honing their reflections on American life. One of the things they found puzzling was why Americans were so quick to color their hair. “For us,” they said, “White hair is a sign that you are becoming wise. Why would you want to hide that?”
We look for other markers, other indicators of wisdom. I’ve been thinking about wisdom lately, as it seems to come in concentrated form in Hancock. I don’t know whether this place attracts it or if the pace of life here gives it time to grow, but truly, I go home after some conversations and visits knowing that I live among sages.
So what makes for wisdom? Martin Copenhaver, one of the writers I’ve been working with in Minnesota this week, offers some thoughts on wisdom in This Odd and Wondrous Calling, the book he co-authored with Lillian Daniel. He describes wisdom in terms of a cluster of attributes:
- A clear-eyed view of human behavior coupled with keen self-understanding
- A certain tolerance for ambiguity and what may be called the messiness of life
- Emotional resiliency
- An ability to think clearly in a circumstance of conflict or stress
- A tendency to approach a crisis as an intriguing puzzle to be solved
- An inclination to forgive and move on
- Humility enough to know that it is not all about you
- A gift for seeing how smaller facts fit in within the larger picture
- A mix of empathy and detachment
- A knack for learning from lifetime experiences
- A way of suspending judgment long enough to achieve greater clarity
- An ability to act coupled with a willingness to embrace judicious inaction
Martin, who is a United Church of Christ minister in Wellesley, MA, writes that wisdom “has been called the woolly mammoth of ideas—big, shaggy and elusive.”
Maybe big, maybe shaggy, but not so elusive here in Hancock.