Listen for Wisdom from Everyone

Here’s a healthy challenge to all students: spend one week listening carefully for wisdom—often shared in t he most unexpected places.

Wisdom is everywhere.  Every single person has wisdom.  The guy on the street who shares his ice cream cone with his dog, worried about the next meal, has wisdom.  The child in a coma, deemed a vegetable, has wisdom.  The business tycoon who loses both his family and his fortune, ready to commit suicide, has wisdom.  Wisdom is in most every conversation, awaiting our attention.

Today I walked to the grocery store and bought a bag of nuts.  At the till, I pulled out a pile of change, and handed the cashier my largest coins.  The cashier, always upbeat, picked out my smallest coins.  “You’re on the ball.  Thank you,” I said.  She replied, “I have to be.  Tomorrow I’m off for three days.” Within her words, I found wisdom: give all to our work in gratitude of what work brings in return.

Later that day, I encountered more wisdom.  A friend said, “No matter what you do, someone is ready to verbally attack you.” I reflected on her wisdom and replied, “Mother Teresa was attacked in the media.” The wisdom I gathered was to not take criticism hard, but to take it to heart as a growth opportunity instead.

A day later, I asked my mom, “How did you do it? You raised four kids, worked a career, cooked a five course supper every night, washed endless clothes, and left the house spotless?” I personally would have collapsed under the pressures.  Mom replied, “Pa always told you kids to work hard.” I took her words to heart and made them my motto: work hard in life.

The next day, more wisdom surfaced.  A charity speaker said, “Don’t expect anything from anyone.  Only expect the best from ourselves.  We can’t control anyone else anyway.  But if our goal is to be happy, then have no expectations of others.” He later said, “We must restructure any thought that doesn’t bring us happiness.” The wisdom I found in his words was to watch my thoughts for any moments of sadness, immediately changing the nature of those thoughts to love, selflessness, and happiness.”

Recently, I told a friend how much I loved her.  I told her how lucky I felt to have met her twenty years ago.  She replied, “Nothing by mistake, my friend.” The wisdom I heard was that everyone on our path is meant to be in our lives as part of our purpose.  I believe our purpose is for us to learn how to love those people, even if they present themselves as enemies.

Another friend quoted Ram Dass: “We are all just walking each other home.” But I didn’t understand the quote.  So, I probed her to explain the meaning.  She replied, “We are all here to help one another end up in heaven: our home.” That heaven, for an atheist, could be interpreted as enlightenment, greater compassion, or some other positive development.  The wisdom, ultimately, was that we are meant to guide one another—to guide everyone who appears in our life—to a higher place, no matter who that person is or what she’s done.  Sometimes, a simple kind word is all it takes.

When we pay attention to wisdom, we can stop repeating our mistakes.  And that wisdom is everywhere, within every single person, throughout every single day, rewarding everyone who patiently listens.