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Getting Less Dumb

I was recently speaking with Ted, a retired Jewish dentist who “works out” at the gym we both frequent. Ted is a fascinating, intelligent man whose socializing exceeds his exercising. Though not buff, he’s nonetheless wildly popular among even the most fit.  He simply never fails to entertain with a good joke – often religious in nature.
“Jim, did you know what Jesus told the apostles at the Last Supper?” “Well I kind of do know Ted, but probably not the line you’re going to deliver.” He proceeds with a winsome grin: “Fellas, if you want to be in the picture, you’ve got to sit on my side of the table.”
We guffaw together – me panting on the moving walk while Ted keeps talking on the stationary floor. Ever curious, he wonders what I’m reading on my Kindle. “I’m reading your book Ted – Proverbs from Solomon. I read one the 31 chapters daily, based on the date. I’m on chapter 12 since it’s August 12. Listen to this: “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is STUPID (emphasis added).”
Ted nods approval, so I continue: “He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits has no sense.” “Bingo!” says Ted. “That explains why I chose dentistry over ballet.”
I go on to praise Jewish wisdom as the foundation of my Christian faith. The books of Proverbs, Wisdom and Sirach, for instance, are a treasure trove replete with pithy, practical sayings. I discovered these ancient books when I was a very young man. Exceedingly dumb at that life juncture, I quickly realized that if I could become less dumb by imbibing of God’s wisdom in these books.  I calculated.  By reading one chapter a day, I could cover the book of Proverbs 12 times a year! Over multiple years maybe God’s wisdom would sink in.
I even piloted this method with our kids. Many nights, at dinner’s end, we would read one chapter together, each reciting one verse as we went around the table. Each would then pick her (the six girls heavily outnumbered the two boys) favorite verse and explain why. It sparked great fun and lots of laughs. Better yet it provided guidance for wise living. For example:
  • The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Acknowledging the greatness of God is the first step to understand reality.
  • A slack hand cause poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. If you want to make money, work hard. This beat my preferred adage: “Money doesn’t grow on trees!”
  • When words are many transgression is not lacking. Watch your mouth. More words usually increase gossip and slander.
  • A fool despises his father’s instruction, but he who heeds admonition is prudent. Obviously I loved this one.
Beyond the family, I also found that these Wisdom books were fantastically applicable for the workplace. They highlight the advantage of humility over pride, diligence over mediocrity, courtesy over disrespect, frugality over indulgence, virtue over vice.  They shed light on thorny employee and customer challenges. Utterly reliable, when applied, they work 100% of the time.
Forty years of reading later, I still often feel dumb, but I’m happy to report less dumb than I used to be. And I think more teachable and hungrier for wisdom too. Wisdom really beats having all the goods of the world. And only wisdom helps us to even know what is truly good and beneficial vs. seductive but empty gain. Wisdom surpasses riches, health and all pleasures. “He who gets wisdom loves himself; he who understands will prosper.”
I ended up buying the book of Proverbs for Ted. After all enjoys a far more direct ethnic lineage to Solomon than me. You might try this program yourself – one chapter a day over 31 days. It’s a vitamin enrichment program for the brain and a virtue supplement for the heart - guaranteed to make one less dumb.
By Jim Berlucchi, M.T.S., Executive Director of the Spitzer Center