GUEST COLUMN: What’s needed is wisdom
June 4, 2010
With elections in June and the current state of affairs within the city’s administration what is needed now, more than ever, are candidates with real wisdom. But what is wisdom? Is it merely knowledge?
Is wisdom measured by the number of books you have read or classes you have taken? Most of us have known people, who were smart, yet they lacked a kind of common sense, they could recite the facts but could not effectively put them to work.
Wisdom certainly requires knowledge, but it must be supported by something else, like experience. Experience, real life’s intersection with knowledge and the real world.
When I taught in the former Soviet Union, I used the example of riding a bike. It is easy to master the definition of balance and it is an entirely different matter to get on the bike and ride. Such is the same with government. It is one thing to have taken a course in high school or even college and quite another to actually trying to get something done in a system of opposites but equals.
For example, in our city you can be a clear cut champion of an issue, yet without three votes it will never see the light of day. You must get someone who usually does not agree with you to agree. In government it seems, there is always someone ready to trade – my issue for yours. If you make the trade then your own supporters may think you have sold out and they will no longer stand by you. This system usually works at the state and national level because of the large voter base and trades or deals are usually hidden in the complexities that come with size. On the local level that is not true, if you support a project for one reason but your adversary can find another to damage you, they will use it.
If wisdom is the combination of knowledge and experience, which seems to make the most sense, do we face the danger of only doing things the same way and discouraging new ideas? After all experience usually means “I know better because I did it.”
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It seems with whatever our definition is of wisdom, there is a problem. Lack of knowledge can sometimes be a good thing, for example not knowing that accomplishing a seemingly impossible task is in fact, impossible. Experience can keep us stuck in the old ways and in politics, with the necessity for compromise, it is easy to be misunderstood. Misunderstanding combined with some people’s meanness, could dissuade the best and the wisest people from running for public office. How many times have I heard from good people, “Who needs that grief?” as they express their sympathy for an attack.
Well maybe that’s life, Truman said, “If you can stand the heat get out of the kitchen.” However, most often the person who gets out is the truly qualified person and we get less.
What should we look for? I say knowledge does count and experience as well. However, that needs to be balanced with the candidate’s personality, which you will only get to know through personal interaction. How many times does the criticism come from someone that has never met the person or even talked to them? In years past there was a real integrity in what you read. Today that is offset by the anonymity of the Internet, where a person can hide behind a web name and say whatever they want.
I urge you however, not to get stuck in that. Meet the candidates. Ask questions. Decide for yourself based on knowledge, personal experience with the candidates and facts, not on rumor or innuendo. Go to the candidates’ forms and be involved. When you read something on the Internet, just know that anyone can make up anything. Investigate, call and ask. We are living in different times, we all need to adjust, to gain the greatest value and be sure to vote.
– Ted Long is a former City Council member, planning commissioner and past president of the Sacramento Valley division of the League of California Cities.