Looking around at the world at the moment my main thought is “Where are the Wise Ones?” I have just returned from a trip back to my homeland of Northern Ireland. The fraught issue of Brexit was everywhere, with non-stop ‘bun-fights’ between the British Government’s ‘Remainers’ and ‘Brexiteers’. In Northern Ireland, Brexit throws up the possibility of the re-instatement of a ‘hard’ border’ with the Republic of Ireland. It therefore threatens to de-stablise the entire island and severely undermine the Good Friday peace agreement of 1998. And where are the Northern Irish politicians at this most sensitive of times? Now proud holders of the world record for most days an elected Government has failed to sit – over 541 and counting. Mind you they are still all drawing their pay! And while I was overseas of course we had the Australian politics “muppet show” (to quote our latest leader) with a fourth consecutive first term Prime Minister rolled by their own side. And hovering over all this is the dizzying spectre of Donald Trump in the White House. Again I ask where are the adults – where is the wisdom?
A few years ago I read a wonderful book by Helen Schaefer called Grandmothers Counsel the World. In it she tells the individual stories of 13 Wise Women from indigenous cultures all over the globe and then she expounds their collective wisdom which evolved from their four day summit in 2004. As Schaefer reveals the inspiration for the meeting and book was the fact that "in some Native American societies tribal leaders consulted a council of grandmothers before making any major decisions that would affect the whole community.”
In contrast there is depressingly little respect shown for wisdom at the moment. Most of what passes for debate today represents two sides of an extreme pendulum swing. People are so married to their narrow and often short term points of view that they will do anything - arguing, lying, fighting and threatening those who see things differently. The mainstream media operating in a 24 hour news cycle offer up brief analysis, if any, before racing headlong to the next headline grabbing story. In depth investigation in the form of science or expert understanding is less highly valued than a 20 something ‘influencer’ who can get thousands of 'likes' for looking ‘hot’ while pouting in a selfie.
But hopefully this trend is in itself a pendulum swing and we will return one day soon to a place where wisdom is revered and its gathering is the aim of our leaders. Until then it is incumbent upon us to seek out and reward those who are keepers and purveyors of wisdom.
How do you spot the ‘Wise Ones’? They are not necessarily perfect people, sometimes their voice is raised in powerful objection; sometimes it is quiet but clear. Sometimes it is the calm middle voice; sometimes the slow painful voice of every man and every woman who has bled and suffered. Sometimes it is the voice of a leader drawing us back from the cliff edge of moral, social or physical destruction. Sometimes it is simply the guiding hand of a wise relation saying “I get you and I truly care.” Often it is the ancient wisdom staring out from the eyes of a child.
What they have in common is their authenticity, the sense that their wisdom is from beyond them, beyond their ego and the pursuit of power. That they recognise the greater ‘truths’ and are not afraid to utter them, can see the bigger picture and have the strength of purpose to honour the future above personal gratification in the present. Another consistent theme, underscored by the teachings from the International Council ofThirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, is the eternal nature of their message: the awareness of our inter-dependency with every other living creature on this planet and our total dependency on and therefore respect for Mother Earth. An understanding and recognition, also, of the eternal cycles of life…. and the fleeting nature of each lifetime.
P.S If you want an example of what the voice of wisdom sounds like try this You Tube video of Maya Angelou, American poet, singer, memoirist and civil rights activist reciting her poem A Brave and Startling Truth to mark the 50th Anniversary of the formation of the United Nations. Or this longer version where Maya introduces the same poem by recounting how she was mute from aged 7 to 14 years yet her mother always told her she would be a teacher!