Tag Archives: Aristotle

Jesus Wept—For a Friend

Jesus wept.  There are many erudite and inspiring interpretations of this, the shortest verse in the St. James Bible (John, 11:35).  While giving due respect to exegetical scholars, I find it helpful to reflect on the human side of Rabbi Jesus.  As I noted in my essay Jesus and the Fig Tree , the episodes that display Jesus in a fit of pique (the fig tree), or anger (the money changers), or frustration (often with his disciples), or grief (for Lazarus or Jerusalem), give me comforting reassurance that even the most highly evolved among us share our human vulnerabilities.  I find it instructive to take these stories at face value, and use them as a springboard for thinking about the wonders and the mysteries of ordinary life.  One of the greatest of these wonders is friendship.

I find it very beautiful that Jesus would weep at the death of a friend.  Ralph Waldo Emerson observed,  “A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature.”  C.S. Lewis, however, offers a cautionary note:  “to the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it.”   My experience leads me to shy away from this last sentence.   I can honestly say that my  life’s journey would have have been very different without loving friends to weep with me through the darkness, to laugh with me through crepuscular awakenings, and to dance with me through the light.

Perhaps, however, Lewis is partly correct.  During the busiest times of our lives, it seems we only have room for “socializing,” and not for deep friendships.  Dinner parties or watching football with some buddies and some beers temper the stresses of modern life, but the respect, comfort, and trust that blossom into the love of friendship calls for discovery and creation, care and nurture.  These friends are as rare as they are precious.  They are bound to us with hoops of steel,  and being with them is an essential part of life.

Still, it seems to me that our friendships, our loves, surround us in concentric circles.  My wife and children and grandchildren live in the innermost circle, surrounded by the sisterhood and brotherhood of intimate friends.  The next circle is enriched by those souls that we recognize and love for a lifetime.  So many men and women from my past, so many students,  have taken up permanent residence in a warm place in my heart. I was recently with a friend I hadn’t seen in 20 years.  As our eyes met, my heart melted into joyful, trusting love.   I could see the same was happening with him.  It was a wonder not only to love each other, but to be aware of that love and to rest in its embrace. There are so many people, hundreds perhaps, with whom I share this love in varying degrees. Further still from the center, we can find human solidarity with a waitress or a service person or a person we pass on the street.   Martin Buber said that if we listen, we can even hear the call of I/Thou in the voice of a railway conductor.

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Living the Love of Wisdom #1

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It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and honorably and justly, and it is impossible to live wisely and honorably and justly without living pleasantly.
Epicurus (341-270 BCE)

The URL of this blog is “Love of Wisdom,” and in a previous essay, I lamented the fact that not many university professors live lives of wisdom lovers. But just what is this “wisdom” we philosophers are supposed to love? And what difference would this love make in the perspectives, attitudes and behavior a person realizes in each moment of every day? What does it mean to live a wise life?

I find these questions essential to the calling of Teacher of the Love of Wisdom. As with most seemingly simple and obvious questions, however, they open a doorway to a lifetime of wonder—and this, I think, is a beautiful thing. In this essay I would like to offer a provisional reflection on the nature of Wisdom and the implications it has for the character of one’s life, with the hope that we might gain some insight into the fascinating challenge of living a pleasant, honorable, and just life.

According to Aristotle, Wisdom is a Virtue. The virtues are qualities of excellence (arête) that invigorate the mind (wisdom) and the heart (courage), and engender wholeness (temperance and justice). These qualities empower us to be the people we long to be, and to lead fulfilling lives.

I cannot claim to be an expert on the living a virtuous life, but I am very familiar with living a life inhibited by their opposite qualities, called “vices” by the Greeks. I have been foolish far more often than wise. Instead of dealing with life’s challenges with a thoughtful and conscious mind, I have often labored under the veil of illusion and irrational beliefs (see Albert Ellis). Instead of courageously moving through fear, I have allowed it to paralyze me or to act defensively (see Charlie Brown’s failure to ever kiss the little red-haired girl). The opposite of temperance (to be “in tune”) is a lack of integrity, or wholeness, that manifests in a dithering mind and an ambivalent heart. Finally, the unjust life is one of selfish egocentricity.

The virtues are mutually interdependent and complementary, existing together or not at all, and serve to form a mature human character. Wisdom tells us what is truly worthy of fear, while courage gives us the strength to break out of the prison of illusion. Similarly, integrity allows us to focus our energies wisely and courageously, while justice urges us to go beyond the protective walls of ego.

Aristotle goes on to say that “Happiness (eudaimonia) is activity in accord with virtue.” The capstone of human flourishing (eudaimonia) is not simply being virtuous, but acting virtuously. This means setting a firm intention to live life from the very best in oneself: from one’s highest wisdom and most loving heart, from one’s harmonious integrity and a sense of empathetic fairness.

Wisdom, then, might be placed in a nexus of qualities whose pursuit gives value and direction to an entire lifetime. It therefore seems best to think of the Love of Wisdom as a longing for perspective and compassion, balance and fairness, that evolves through an authentic commitment, renewed daily, to pursue and nurture the most empowering dimensions of one’s mind and heart. This evolution takes the form of a widening spiral of growth that leads toward ever deeper Wisdom and ever more effective loving in the world.

In tomorrow’s post, I will reflect upon the Dynamics of Transformation.