30 Days of Wisdom — Day 7: Sufferin’ Socrates

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So I had this low thought this morning, that my sense of “wisdom” in my life is inauthentic. That only true wisdom comes from knowing what we don’t know and then experiencing or discovering it as insight. Here is today’s quote:

The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.
― Socrates
tags: knowledge, wisdom 8032 likes

Last week on Facebook, a friend posted his status about other peoples’ New Year’s resolutions. He stated that some people spoke of getting to know heaven better while other people spoke of moving away from their concepts of hell. He posited (and I agreed) that we all have the capacity to create our own heavens and hells right here and that we may as well just live the best lives we can.

That got me thinking. This is not always a good thing. It started me down a path of wondering “What the hell I do know?” and then this quote. So it’s all about timing as we know. But it also has a lot to do with staring down the barrel of 30 days of writing about other peoples’ thoughts about wisdom, which is sort of a heavy subject. I should’ve chosen 30 Days about Ice Cream.

So … about that thought …

I write a lot about a lot of different things. I seem to be a generalist. One thing I am sure of though is that optimism begets optimism as much as pessimism begets more pessimism. This thinking then led me down a path which was most unpleasant. The bottom line is that I felt like I was a fraud. There. I said it. Plain and simple. That I was a fraud who writes about her insipid observations from the comfort of her home at the pleasure of her discretion and that is that. That in order for me to actually have a right to be spouting off here as I do, to wax philosophic as I do and to encourage anyone, including myself, to look on the sunny side of things means that I don’t know pain. I don’t know suffering and I don’t know hell.

This has long been a sentiment about myself that I’ve managed to quiet for the most part, but sometimes it just comes back into my consciousness like a freakin’ freight train and it literally derails me for hours.

Last night, my husband was talking about a book he’s reading, Dying To Be Me by Anita Moorjani. He’s almost done, he reports, but he’s been bristling lately from it because he said she was starting to sound preachy.

“Preachy.”

That word hit me like a grand piano. I sank internally and he noticed it immediately.

“What?” he asked.

“Preachy. You said ‘preachy.’ Am I preachy?”

“No. You just share your observations. You don’t tell people how to live, in fact, you make it clear that you’re no expert about it…”

And down the rabbit hole I went.

“No! That’s what’s great about your stuff! You are humble. You say you don’t have all the answers! You know this about yourself! It’s good….”

Where did that rabbit go? “Humble?”

“Yes, you are humble about it. You know that your life is fleeting. You know this is all we have. You know that you need to break cycles, pay attention to your patterns, do the best you can….”

Ouch! A root, or is a rope? I didn’t see that coming. Humble… Am I humble? Am I grateful? Or am I just a fraud…

I gave up. I fell asleep reading some Alice Munro because I wanted to read more Nobel Prize writers. My husband bought me two of her books for Christmas. I like her, but she’s spartan. Canadian. You can tell she grew up in the cold; her timing is precise and she doesn’t waste words like I do. I like word wasters savorers like Fitzgerald and Twain and just about every other human being who talks too much.

So when I woke this morning, the concept of humility came up. I wondered about my humilty: has God or the Universe shown me what it means? Do I really have ANY idea of what it means? My children are healthy, my marriage is strong, my life is blessed: I am an educated white American female in the 21st Century… that’s pretty kush.

So then that got me thinking, that I don’t know suffering and that the suffering I endured as a child and as a young adult and even now as a white American mother in one of the country’s most affluent counties is bunk.

I have friends and loved ones who have traveled the world; they speak of great art, literature, architecture and crowding, suffering and joy. I have not traveled the world. I have been to England twice, Canada many times, but mostly one place, Bermuda, NYC, San Francisco, Seattle and Las Vegas. I have not seen drought or famine. But I have seen the wretched, the “tired, [your] poor, [your] huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” One of the saddest things I’ve seen lately was a collection of gray, dirty, weathered, soggy and sad-looking teddy bears nestled and tied to the trees and desolate front porches of homes as memorials where drive-by shootings or child deaths occurred in Buffalo.

Does this lack of worldliness make me a sham? For about four deep and dark hours this morning, I thought so. Then because it’s a mess, I started to vacuum my house, clean up the bathroom, dust and dump stuff out of the basement and clear some stuff out and I came to the conclusion, with Socrates on the mind, that he never rode on a plane; nor do I believe Shakespeare ever saw Africa. That worldliness might invoke a greater appreciation of suffering, but it doesn’t necessarily validate it … or better still, that a lack of worldliness doesn’t INvalidate anyone’s concept of suffering. We can create our own little hells, right here, without moving an inch.

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Wild stuff. And with that, >poof!< the suffering –the feelings of fraud– that I unconsciously invoked while feeling sorry for myself, went away. What this tells me more than anything is that I need to keep writing and that it’s OK that I’ve lived the life I have; it’s not a sin, or something to feel guilty about (DAMN YOU, CATHOLICISM!) simply because I’ve lived the way I have so far. Would greater suffering or more epic harm to my family make me a better person or writer??

I didn't feel stupid anymore, I didn't feel insipid nor did I feel unwise. It was as though that pocket of low pressure arrived to flush out my self-pity crap; that Socrates is right: when we allow that we know nothing at all, is when wisdom can thrive.

So how about you? Do you ever feel fraudulent? Do you ever compare your suffering or woe with someone or conditions that are impossible to empathize? But that's the point I suppose: that even though we might not be able to have those experiences, we know what it's like inside ourselves, to feel low and to feel suffering. That's when we become wisest; that's when we can connect.

Thank you.

2 responses »

  1. So. Where to begin? So. Many. Thoughts. First, the obvious, to my mind anyway. You are anything but fraudulent. The fact that you even entertain asking yourself this question, ” Am I a fraud? ” and consider offering it to the universe as a material entity in the form of language and print suggests to me that authentic would be a more apt description of one of your character traits.

    Now as regards Word Wasters. They exist. I won’t deny it. But I think you could consider yourself as a member of the congregation of the Church Of Language Lovers. Words are a joy. Words are fun. They are an endless puzzle to play with and arrange and rearrange. I think the Word Wasters give themselves away because in the end their words obfuscate. Language Lovers use their words to clear a path and shed light. Word Wasters shovel s@#*. And you, a Language Lover, dig for gold.

    And Suffering. It cannot be quantified. Ever. Not by the sufferer or by the observer. Suffering happens whether the human lives in a castle or a yurt, is hungry or full, or even genetically wired to be primarily jovial or subdued. We simple humans suffer sometimes, and sometimes we don’t. Didn’t Thoreau rough it in the woods just a mile from his mother’s home?

    I love the quote ( I love Socrates.- Funny, I just referenced him yesterday in something I wrote. I guess that happens when someone speaks wisely.),

    “when we allow that we know nothing at all, is when wisdom can thrive.”

    Channeling Colonel Klink or his sidekick. I forget which, ” I know NUZINK! “

    • MC, I appreciate this from you so much. Suffering can not be quantified. Why I do this to myself is beyond me. The funny thing is, I know people who would be more than pleased to tell me I don’t know a thing about suffering because I didn’t live their lives. Mom was one of them. I would talk about my fears and pain and she’d stop me dead cold and say, “You don’t know about suffering…” and I’d be all, “well, maybe i don’t because you’re my mom an’ all and you’d never lie to me, you only want what’s best for me…” and I think that MUST be where some of this comes from. She was always reducing my pain. Invalidating it. Telling me it was nothing and that I lived in a GD fairy tale compared to her.

      Yikes. I better save it for the book.

      I miss our chats. I will stalk you soon. xo 😀

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