News and Tribune


May 19, 2013

CUMMINS: Filling in the wisdom gap

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — More than 2,000 years ago, three wise men traveled to Bethlehem. Since that time, the evidence of wise men traveling anywhere is a rarity. If you go to Washington looking for wise men, you wouldn’t find one. At the founding of our nation, the forefathers traveled to Philadelphia and hammered out a document based on their vision, encompassing not only common sense, but an extraordinary amount of what’s known as “wisdom.” Today, statesmen don’t hammer out wise policies, but hammer each other’s heads instead. Since that time, common sense became nonsense and vicious politics eradicated all things resembling wisdom.

Terms associated with wisdom are intelligence, knowledge, perception, insight and good judgment. A wise person possesses those qualities, including the maintenance of sanity. Contrarily, as we assess our high and elite elected officials composed of individuals who may possess some knowledge and varying degrees of intelligence, what causes them to lose their sanity? Most do possess minimal intelligence, enough to raise money to get elected and re-elected, and intelligent enough to know how to make dumb statements and intelligent enough to say hateful things about their colleagues, whom they judge as tearing our united nation apart. Will lawmakers ever learn anything about making wise decisions? Where are Washington, Adams and Jefferson when we need them?

Since man learned to think and write, there are recorded a wealth of wise sayings designed by the ancient wise men and a few more recent individuals, who had insight into what makes the good life. None have had anything to say about living entangled in the Web.

 Leo Tolstoy, one of the world’s greatest authors, “War and Peace, etc.,” worked on “A Calendar of Wisdom-Daily Thoughts to Nourish the Soul,” during his life and considered it his most important work. The book is an accumulation of wise sayings, his own, and those from philosophers, sages and wise men going back to the 6th Century B.C. Through the ages, women gained stature and wisdom, and now threaten the unwise men floundering.

Tolstoy addresses everything from living the simple life, the treatment of animals and confronting death to religion, war, the corruption of wealth and the soul. He uses quotes from the Bible and other religious texts, including the Islamic, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist faiths, and believed: “The foundation of all faiths are the same.” With all the knowledge and wisdom available to modern man, why ignore what the wise ones learned the hard way?

Following the sage advice, about all we need do is, love thy neighbor and strive for perfection, which nourishes the soul. It’s a simple matter of changing hate to love, converting the material to the spiritual and living in peace rather than forward marching to war. Tolstoy says the way to stop war, is that when the officer gives the order to march, “disobey the order.”

If you are deciding between living a material or a spiritual life, Tolstoy says if you choose a spiritual life, “then you are free.” An Eastern mystic added, “He who has achieved victory over himself has real power.” Living a spiritual life nourishes the soul, and Seneca wrote, “We should live as if everyone could see us, as if the most secret corners of our soul were open to the sight of others.” From the Talmud: “You cannot see the soul, but only the soul can truly see the essence of things.”

The essence of things is seen from within. A Buddhist sage taught, “You alone plan to commit a sin and plan to do evil; and you alone can escape sin and purify your thoughts. Only your inner self can damn you, and only your inner self can save you.”

Loving thy neighbor as thyself is one of the hardest things, because when someone smites you on one cheek, your head won’t turn the other. The “Calendar of Wisdom” is full of loving thy neighbor, which is the essence of all religions, and, obviously, the key to living in peace. Mohammed said, “The most perfect among men is he who loves his neighbor without thinking whether he is good or bad.”

Is living the simple life better than living a computer-assisted one? Tolstoy wrote, “Real goodness is always simple.” A Ukrainian poet said, “Give thanks to God, who made necessary things simple and complicated things unnecessary.” Does instant messaging contribute to a simple life? Tolstoy said, “Nothing can support idleness better than empty chatter.”

Contact Terry Cummins at


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