“The quiet whispers of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of the rulers of fools.” Ecclesiastes 9:17
The above verse is attributed to King Solomon, ruler over Israel until 931 BCE. He has been heralded as the wisest person that ever lived. At some point, he authored the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. Much of the book centers on the meaningless of life and human endeavor. It also delves into the secrets of wisdom, not unrelated to the mundane cycles of life we find ourselves in as part of the human experience.
Where does someone find quiet wisdom in the age of polarizing and divisive social media? Platforms are owned by the loud and noisy.
We find wisdom when we respect experts. Because it needs to be said, respecting experts does not mean accepting every word they say as absolute truth. Respecting experts does not mean eliminating discernment, or even being in agreement with them. It means we appreciate the amount of time and effort these individuals have put into studying a subject. It means we value and validate the life experience that directly addresses the topics they discuss. It means that even when we do our own research or reach different conclusions, we subject it voices of authority for examination. To respect an expert means to acknowledge their scholarship even when we differ in direction. Even one hundred hours of reading and researching a subject does not rival decades of experience.
We find wisdom in the voices of experience. We find wisdom in relationship. We find wisdom when we take constructive criticism to heart. We find wisdom in community. We find wisdom when we are willing to listen. We find wisdom when we are willing to be challenged on our own perspectives, and when we interact with humility. We find wisdom when we search for it.
We have to seek wisdom. Like other valuables in life, it does not just come to us without effort. All the information we have available does not make us wise. The number of followers or the size of a person’s platform does not equal wisdom. When we open our smartphones, we can find an unlimited number of people willing to opine on a particular topic at a moment’s notice. It does not mean these are necessarily voices we should heed.
Our devices make suggestions to us all the time. A variety of apps suggest the routes we should take to our destination, the news articles we might like, the books we should read next, and the restaurants we might like. Ultimately, we see variations of our perspective and interests on repeat. We can reinforce positive personal convictions this way, but we also become entrenched in our uninformed biases. We can now build worldviews divorced from tough conversations and interpersonal accountability. This is the opposite of wisdom. However, wisdom also does look like justice.
Wisdom does not shout for attention. Although quiet people are not always wise, wise people do know how to be quiet.
I have heard people ask “where can my voice have an impact in all this noise? Does it even matter?” It does. As long as it is not merely raising the volume of the cultural cacophony. Other people do resonate and reflect with perspectives that cut through the clutter. Because wisdom is rare, it cannot be cultivated online. We cannot glean from the collective opinions on social media, regurgitate them in a different package and call it wisdom. It needs to be developed inside ourselves and apart from our devices.
But in the end, if it still feels like wisdom, despite its worth, is not valued in our society, don’t despair. King Solomon said the same. The preface to the passage preceding says, “Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom. But nobody remembered the poor man.” And yet, he still reminds us, “wisdom is better than weapons of war.” The worth of wisdom is not diminished by its environment.