Wednesday, March 18, 2015


One of the Journals I sometimes purchase is "Parabola: Where Spiritual Traditions Meet." Each issue has a primary theme that is explored through many different religious and spiritual traditions. Some of the themes over the years have been: Silence, Home, Birth & Rebirth, The Heart, Forgiveness, Nature, Suffering, etc. One of the issues centers on "Wisdom."

One of the more thought provoking articles in the "Wisdom" issue is written by the poetry editor of the journal. He raises the question of where wisdom resides and the relationship of wisdom to knowledge. He writes, "Wisdom does not loom large in the modern psyche. It has been replaced by knowledge … It is strictly about things and the manipulation of them; and unsurprisingly, it's directed outwardly, towards the technologies of life and not their meanings. So we have many people who, externally speaking, are able but not wise; active but not prudent. And perhaps this defines our society and our age as much as any other set of words; activity without prudence, or, imprudent doing."

We see this imprudent activity all around us. There is an utter compulsion for productivity, for doing more; for growth, for bigger and better everything; for progress and development; for larger GDP and greater energy security and more distractions in more glamorous products that promise more health and happiness; ultimately, all of them, leaving us more or less unsatisfied and wanting more. And then when our time on earth ends, we wonder what it was all about. We ask "what did it all mean," a wisdom question.

Indigenous cultures understood that one should resist doing anything without considering the impact on the seventh generation. Today such an idea is considered outdated; a sign of a civilization that was slow to progress and having a poor work ethic.

So small towns like Brookings, where I live, that are able to sustain and support an excellent public infrastructure and many other amenities of small town life, are culturally compelled to grow, beyond what they can plan for and afford. It's all in the name of economic development. And you have horror stories like Williston, North Dakota. It's really de-development when you have rents higher than anywhere in the nation.

In Williston, a 700 square foot one bedroom apartment costs on average $2,394 a month. That's more than New York City at $1,504 or Los Angeles at $1,411. The population of the community has doubled since the 2010 census. I assume this is the kind of growth decision makers in my own state are hoping for, should oil money follow the Keystone tar sands pipeline into South Dakota. It will surely be a big boom for some and a big bust for many.

For me, I'd rather have less fossil fuels, not more. I think we would be better off with smaller class sizes in our schools, not larger. And why would we want to put more and stronger toxic pesticides on our fields, rather than finding ways to use less? Is more really always better?

This emphasis on activity and growth is also evident in the recent decision by our State Senate to put an unexpected nest egg of unclaimed bank accounts and other assets, worth $30 million, into the Building South Dakota Fund. The emphasis will be on projects costing $20 million or more. 

In the meantime, we can't afford to make sure our own citizens, close to 50,000 of them, have adequate access to health care through the medicaid program. And we apparently can't afford to aid another 70,000 of our citizens to access health insurance where they would receive tax credits. Not to say anything about the continual penny pinching when it comes to education.

There's a difference when development asks the "why" question first and foremost. With "why," there's an innate orientation to considering things that have meaning. These days, it's simply a "how" question, and involves making more money.

There's amazing irony to me in a run away economy, addicted to consuming and devouring everything, mirrored in our national health. Cancer, a run away disease that consumes us all, continues to devastate our families and communities,. Cancer cells eat ravenously, just like our addictive economy and culture. Why is there this similarity?

To make prudent decisions is the essence of wisdom. And prudent decisions derive from foresight, from paying attention. As the writer in Parabola says, "attention is born from within, not from outward circumstances; … attention is of a divine origin, not a worldly one."

I'm afraid the internal life, the residence of wisdom, has gone the way of everything else in a throw-away culture. That's not sustainable! 

We need wisdom as badly as we need knowledge. We need the cultivation of an internal spiritual life. We need to revisit the important questions of meaning. We need to ask again the questions of earlier generations, of what truly sustains us, and what will sustain our children and grandchildren for many generations to come.

Carl Kline

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