For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
August 2, 2000 - What is Wise?
Lately I've been thinking about a question I first ran across when I was in fifth grade. For three syllables, it packs a lot of punch.
What is wise?
My first encounter with this was through Plato. A librarian sent me home one day with a copy of the Dialogs, and I got hooked. The format was clever and engaging. That Socrates was a slippery rascal. He'd ask a few innocent questions, get perfectly reasonable answers, then prove that the answers were utterly foolish. I can't say I always followed just what was going on, but I could tell who was winning. It was sort of like wrestlemania with words.
But that one question really got to me. What does it mean to be wise?
Even today I find myself looking at the people around me and wondering. I know plenty of smart people, by which I mean quick. But some very quick people often seem to lack a basic understanding of the world around them.
I know plenty of learned people -- folks who went to prestigious schools and came back with fancy degrees. Sometimes their knowledge is very broad. They keep up with current events, and can talk about anything. Sometimes their learning is deep, but narrow. I'm thinking of people who spend their whole careers working with just one kind of technology, or specializing in the fifth year of the Tudor reign. Is that wise?
I've even known a few very successful people, by which I mean rich. They own a lot of stuff. But then, I've known some people I would call successful who owned very little. Rich might equal smart, sometimes, but it doesn't necessarily equal wise. On the other hand, wisdom might be a kind of success.
Famous? Puh-lease. O.J. Simpson is famous.
Effective? That seems to get a little closer to the mark. A wise leader, for instance, would be very effective. But it seems to me that he or she would be thinking long term, playing for gains that might not be immediately apparent.
How about loved? Well, I'm not sure that our culture, the American culture, places that much value on wisdom. I'm not sure we recognize it. I'm not sure we reward it. On occasion -- when a business leader focuses on long term rather than immediate return, I think we even punish wisdom. I think Socrates was wise, and he got the death sentence. That suggests that wisdom has NEVER had a lot of admirers.
Then is it desirable? Somehow, for me, it still seems that it is, more desirable than almost anything. It seems to me that wisdom has some element of peace to it, a reckoning of worth -- whether of word or deed -- that brings or finds meaning in the world.
Where do you find wisdom? I'm not sure. I wish I could tell you that all the answers can be found at the library. Many of them can be. But sometimes, you just have to settle for a few good questions.