Legend has it that Solomon, the third king of ancient Israel, was the wisest man who ever lived. According to the biblical account found in 2 Chronicles 1, when God appeared in a dream and told Solomon he would grant whatever he asked for, Solomon chose knowledge and wisdom.
The Lord was reportedly pleased with Solomon’s choice and said to him: “Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, possessions or honour, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you king, therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you.”
But Solomon got a whole lot more than he asked for. The Lord, as further confirmation of his favour, also told Solomon: “And I will also give you wealth, possessions and honour, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.” (NIV Translation)
As a teenager, I found this Old Testament story quite intriguing. Looking at the issue through the fuzzy lens of youth, I remember telling my then parish priest, the now Very Reverend Dean Emeritus Ulric Smith, that I considered Solomon to be downright stupid. Were I in his position, my choice would have been power and everything else, including wealth, that comes with it.
Somehow I just could not see the connection between knowledge and power at the time. But, sitting across from me that afternoon in the study of St Martin’s Rectory, Fr Smith quipped: “If you keep on reading, as you are doing now, you will surely find out in time that knowledge is the not only the source of power but many other things.”
He was so right. By my early 20s, as a result of exposure to a widening range of thoughts and ideas, I came to fully grasp what he meant. Iman Ali, the 7th century caliph, said it. The 16th and 17th century English philosophers, Sir Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes, also said it. And the 19th century American essayist and philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, said it too. Of course, there were many others.
“Knowledge is power,” they all agreed. To have knowledge is to have a distinct advantage over persons who do not. To have the relevant knowledge also means being able to cope better and have some measure of control in particularly difficult situations where people tend to feel helpless and powerless.
Knowledge, in the so-called “knowledge economy” of the current 21st century, is also increasingly the gateway to wealth, both at the individual and national levels. What differentiates the knowledge economy from the old industrial economy is a greater reliance on intellectual capabilities than on physical inputs or natural resources.
Knowledge and wisdom, however, are not the same. Knowledge is a key component of wisdom along with experience and discerning. Knowledge can exist without wisdom. A person can have knowledge but still lack wisdom. For example, one can have knowledge about how to use a gun and the legal requirement that it must be licensed. Wisdom, however, is knowing when there is justifiable reason to use it and when to keep it safely tucked away.
Going “pow-pow-pow” through the neighbourhood just to demonstrate that you know how to use a gun would be foolish. Barbadians of yesteryear, especially the elders, would refer to such a person as having “learning” but no common sense. Our forebears placed a high premium on common sense. They used it sometimes to outfox younger persons who had more formal education.
Some took it to ridiculous extremes, though, as a personal experience I had at around age 14 demonstrated. I mention it more for the purpose of levity because I know you are going to crack up with laughter. There was an elderly man who lived next door to my grandfather. He decided one day to test my knowledge because my grandfather apparently told him that I was a sharp young man.
One afternoon, in the presence of my grandfather, he challenged me to provide the name of the dogs which licked Lazarus’ sores, as told in the Parable of Dives and Lazarus in Luke 16:21. I responded that the dogs had no name. Feeling elated that he had outfoxed this supposedly bright Foundation boy, he chuckled in triumph and told me “moreover” was their name.
To support his case, he proceeded to read from his King James Version of the Bible which said: “moreover, the dogs came and licked his sores”. I politely tried to explain to the old gentleman that “moreover” was not a noun but an adverb and therefore could not be a name. I was wrong and he was right and the gentleman could not be convinced otherwise.
He became quite abusive, calling me a young educated idiot, failing to heed the Biblical wisdom, expounded in Isaiah in the same King James Version, that “a little child shall lead them” – a prophetic reference to Jesus as Israel’s coming messiah that is a staple Christmas scripture reading. Sad to say, there are still persons like him around today.
Christmas is a celebration of the divine gift of knowledge and wisdom in the form of the Christ child, defined in St John’s Gospel as “The Word made flesh and dwelt among us.” Word in this context, a translation of “logos” in the original Greek, refers to Jesus as the fully authentic human embodiment of the knowledge and wisdom of Almighty God, Yahweh.
As the hymn, God Is Love, which the Foundation girls of my generation sang so lustily and angelically at morning assembly, puts it, “Jesus came to show Him; that mankind might know Him.” As God in human form, Jesus represented the highest form of knowledge and wisdom with regard to the source of life, life in general and, most importantly, how we humans should live to gain admission into the Kingdom of God.
Knowledge and wisdom are presented to us as light shattering the darkness of ignorance. Hence, Isaiah proclaimed, in reference to the coming of Jesus, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light”. Many, unfortunately, miss the light because earthly distractions seemingly offer more attractive alternatives to knowledge and wisdom but contribute to the perpetuation of darkness.
My Christmas wish is that more Barbadians will choose the enlightenment of knowledge and wisdom over the darkness of ignorance. For a supposedly educated country, a major contradiction is that there is still too much ignorance in Barbados – and, most worryingly, in relation to critical issues that directly impact the quality of life.
A major reason is that people are no longer reading like before and, in many instances where they are, they are ingesting a lot of useless stuff. Why should Barbadians, for example, be more interested in reading about the latest antics of the Kardashians over an issue related to the global economy that will directly impact their future? What is the real benefit?
Promote relevant knowledge this Christmas through the gift of a meaningful book, especially to a child! We need in a concerted way to begin to break the shackles of powerlessness and helplessness among our people by contributing to their mental liberation and empowerment.
Every blessing to you this Christmas and throughout the New Year which will have many challenges but also many opportunities. Pax Christi semper vobiscum! May the peace of Christ be with you always!
(Reudon Eversley is a political strategist, strategic communication specialist and longstanding journalist.