Seichel – a Yiddish word with a variety of meanings, a variety of definitions – but essentially implying wisdom. That may not help much in understanding seichel because the word “Wisdom” is not universally understood. My take is this: Wisdom is a state of being, a state of being that adds the fourth dimension to the finite world of humanity.
Babies are born as infinitely deep empty vessels. There is no prejudice, no bigotry, no hate, no limit to learning and understanding their universe. There is no understanding of dimension. All is learned. 2010 Hollywood movies are embracing the idea of three dimensions. The formula works because movie viewers define their very being in the context of 3-D. But this is only definition – not necessarily inclusive of all reality.
Early measurements of childhood development study dimension. Humans learn about depth, height, and width. We learn concepts of back and forth, up and down, left and right. We learn concepts of over and under, in front of and behind. These concepts define our physical world. These are fundamental concepts children must understand to venture out into the three dimensional world. Learning these concepts liberates a child – granting them the freedom of exploration with a degree of safe understanding. Children who do not understand the concepts of ‘up’ and ‘down’ should not be allowed to climb trees.
Many people live their lives in the limited context of three dimensions – something most children grasp very well by age four. My suggestion is that some people never gravitate beyond juvenile ideas of the world. People who do not grasp the concept of ‘wisdom’ should not be allowed to run governments. Seichel, or Wisdom, is the fourth dimension, the mature understanding of systemic nature. Again, different people have different ideas.
Aaron is almost correct – but he limits the definition of wisdom to a concept that validates his world view. Aaron is also wrong in suggesting that a ‘Harvard diploma’ is not a step toward seichel. Having a degree from an accredited university does not translate directly into wisdom – but wisdom is gained by learning. Personal experience is valuable. Reading (education) offers the addition of the personal experience of others. A “Harvard diploma” offers opportunity of more depth. One does not have to personally suffer every possible calamity to beware of calamity – there is nothing wrong with learning from the experience of others. Many people do achieve depth of wisdom without a formal education – but to suggest that a formal education in any way inhibits true wisdom is just wrong.
Joe Klein, writing for Time Magazine in the June 21, 2010, issue, made reference to seichel. Klein agrees with Jeffrey Goldberg – seichel means wisdom beyond street smarts. The logic thread on the internet continues with Goldberg quoting from Daniel Gordis book “Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win A War That May Never End“. From Goldberg: ‘Gordis opens the first chapter with a quote from the Babylonian Talmud: “Who is wise? The one who can foresee consequences.”
Goldberg is eloquent in his description of seichel:
There is a word in Yiddish, seichel, which means wisdom, but it also means more than that: It connotes ingenuity, creativity, subtlety, nuance. Jews have always needed seichel to survive in this world; a person in possession of a Yiddishe kop, a “Jewish head,” is someone who has seichel, someone who looks for a clever way out of problems, someone who understands that the most direct way — blunt force, for instance — often represents the least elegant solution, a person who can foresee consequences of his actions.
Would anyone suggest that George W. Bush had seichel? Perhaps the jury of History is deliberating. But history does not judge all of us as individuals. History tends to look at the narrative of some individuals – but each age is judged collectively for elements of wisdom. Think Stone Age, Bronze Age, Greeks, Romans, Christians, Dark Ages, Middle Ages – currently we are in the age of modernity. Just words – words used to communicate ideas – words used to define eras – the age of man as Tolkien might say. The wisdom of the masses merely reflects the wisdom of individuals acting collectively. The root of wisdom lies with the individual.
When talking publicly about wisdom we often use public issues as example. But wisdom, again, rests with the individual. How might wisdom apply to being a spouse, to being a parent, to being a teacher in an elementary school? We must look again to Goldberg: “…someone who looks for a clever way out of problems, someone who understands that the most direct way — blunt force, for instance — often represents the least elegant solution, a person who can foresee consequences of his actions….” Blunt force in the context of parenting, of being a spouse, of being an educator is a result of failure to use “…ingenuity, creativity, subtlety, nuance…”. Wisdom does not mean knowing when to strike a child – it implies the capacity to manage without blunt force. When successful the loving parent will experience the joy of the fourth dimension.
Robert Johnson, a Jungian analyst, wrote of the stages of personal development in “Transformation.” Wisdom is achieved through the process of becoming aware. Awareness is a unique trait of humanity. Self awareness is evident – but wisdom is the awareness of ourselves in the context of humanity, of society, of civilization. As Goldberg noted, we must understand the consequences of our actions.
Johnson used the literary figures of Don Quixote, Hamlet, and Faust, as his examples of developing wisdom. Quixote was the simple man, inventing problems to work on – the innocent child. Hamlet was beside himself, ‘pondering the imponderables of fate and destiny.’ Faust was the older man who had come to terms with life, who suffered temptations and failure, who resolved life issues. The simple man comes home at night wondering ‘What’s for dinner?’ The complex man (Hamlet) comes home pondering life. The enlightened man (Faust) has found wisdom, he comes home at night wondering “What’s for dinner?”
Johnson suggests that almost all people arrive at a stage of enlightenment – often after or around age fifty. These people cannot necessarily articulate the wisdom gleaned from their life experience – but they are no less wise. Enlightened people have learned that anger is not productive. Retribution is not productive. Vengeance is not productive. Blunt force is not productive. Prejudice, bigotry, anger, and hate – concepts learned in childhood – have not served them well. Resentment offers a major offense to wisdom – take some poison yourself and wait for the other person to die. The opposite of wisdom is the holding on to juvenile ideas, the refusal of honesty with self, the dishonest denial of factual, empirical, life.
Being able to ‘foresee consequences’ is not the same thing as being willing to ‘foresee consequences’. Willingness requires that we let go of old worn out juvenile ideas. Willingness requires honesty with self. Willingness is as liberating to the adult as grasping three dimensions is to the child.
Three dimensional life is where we exist, the fourth dimension is where we live – if I may be so bold as to paraphrase Plato. The simple man continues to deny the obvious forces of patience, tolerance, forgiveness, and genuine concern for others. The enlightened man does not merely talk about love, about faith, about sincerity, about values, about morality – rather the enlightened man, the man of wisdom, demonstrates these qualities in everyday life.
Wise men to not always agree with each other on tactical solutions to problems. A great example is the conflict between Winston Churchill and Mohandas Gandhi. Gandhi wanted the independence of India from British Colonial Rule. Churchill, a man who believed in imperialism as a means of spreading civilized behavior, disputed Gandhi on one point. Churchill believed the independence of India should be a transitional process. Churchill believed that the people of India, who he acknowledged had been oppressed, were not ready to self govern. Churchill feared the ninety percent Hindu population would not be kind to the ten percent Muslim population – he advocated a transitional process which would allow the Hindus to gain the wisdom necessary for equal governess. Gandhi won the battle of ideals – India gained independence, the Hindus oppressed the Muslims, revolt ensued, and India faltered. Pakistan was born as the home of the Muslim population. Can we deduce faulty wisdom on the part of Gandhi or Churchill? We can argue the tactical points – but Churchill and Gandhi both agreed on an independent India – they differed only on the means of achieving the goal. Gandhi approached the problem from a position of ideology – Churchill approached the same problem as a matter of practical application. Churchill and Gandhi were both men of mature wisdom – each having the same objective – an independent India.
While differing on practical tactics, Churchill and Gandhi both lived whole mature lives. They lived in the fourth dimension.
Wisdom with out action has a diagnosis: Delusional Schizophrenia. Grand ideal floating around in our heads can lead to mental collapse. It is in the application of wisdom that the fourth dimension becomes reality.
We challenge our readers to present wise ideas to some of the pressing issues facing modern civilization. You can define wisdom however you wish – you can take exception to ideas offered in this post. If you choose a definition other than those discussed here – please try to explain yourself. Here are some problems that require wise thought:
Corporate responsibility to the people (Gulf Oil Spill, Banking, General Motors).
Immigration to the United States of America.
Gun Control in The United States.
Religious freedom in the United States.
The Bill of Rights and criminals.
Health Care in the United States.
Social Security as a viable economic model.
Israel and Palestine (Middle East peace process).
Marriage versus Civil Union versus plain old sin.
The United States conflict with international terrorists.
Remember this – wise people do not always agree on tactics – but they generally agree on principle. In any of the defined areas of discussion please state your goal or objective – then state the tactical solution. It is important to understand if we are working toward the same goal when negotiating tactics.