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Ancient wisdom still spot-on for modern times

Posted on July 21, 2021

OpinionColumns

Sanda Baucom Hight

Sanda Baucom Hight

The world has always had its share of wise people. Those thought to be wise have a deep understanding about people and the world. They have good judgment and know how to conduct themselves and get along with others.

Wise people from history like to leave their thoughts to others through oral and written tradition. Ancient wisdom in literature continues to be passed on, and although it is from the past, it has meaning for the modern world. Much of the world’s wisdom has been lost when libraries were destroyed or when civilizations died out, yet much of it is stored in surviving libraries, in the minds of people and, in today’s world, on the internet.

The ancient Greek philosophers come to mind when we think of wisdom. Socrates, for example, left no written wisdom, but his students and followers recorded it for the world.

Socrates (469-399 B.C.) believed that true wisdom lies in understanding the limits of what we know. He said, “I am wiser than that man. Neither of us probably knows anything worthwhile, but he thinks he does when he does not, and I do not and do not think I do.”

Confucius (551-479 B.C.) also left no written work. His followers, who referred to him as the “Master,” recorded his wisdom for the world. A bit of Confucius’ wisdom that has meaning for modern times is this: “It is easy to hate, and it is difficult to love. This is how the whole scheme of things works. All good things are difficult to achieve, and bad things are very easy to get.”

Rumi (1207-73), the famous Persian writer, is often quoted today in places around the world.  He wrote, “Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion.” How about this bit of Rumi wisdom? “You were born with wings; why prefer to crawl through life?”

Probably the most famous examples of ancient wisdom for most of us comes from Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.

From Proverbs, we read, “A wise man will hear and will increase in learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsel” (KJV).

The most famous wisdom from Ecclesiastes is this: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven” (NIV).

So, how do we become wise?  The ways are too many to count, but absorbing the wisdom as recorded in literature is a good start. We do not have to swim in the shallows; we can swim in deep waters and gain in wisdom. The sages of the ages will help us.

And finally, think about this ancient Japanese proverb:  “Cold tea and cold rice are bearable, but not cold looks and cold words.”     

Sanda Baucom Hight is retired from Wilson County Schools after serving as an English teacher.

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