Wednesday, October 24, 2007

On Cultivating Wisdom: A reflection on a Richard Rohr Reflection

Beloved People:

In my research this afternoon for information on this upcoming conference on Jesus and the Buddha -- at the Center for Contemplation and Action in New Mexico -- I came across this daily reflection posted by Franciscan, Richard Rohr.

It takes me to Mncedisi Dabula, in East London, South Africa, and conversations we have had on "rites of passages" -- in the case there, for young men in the community.

I'm not so sure what Mnce would say about Rohr's thoughts and impressions of these African and Asian rites. Mr. Dabula is not a bashful man, and while the topic seems a delicate one, it's intriguing to me this stance that Rohr takes, also unabashedly.

Thinking about all this, these questions surface for me:

How do Westerner's cultivate Wisdom in their youth?
What is up with the rest of the planet (in terms of faith, stance, tradition, rites) regarding this topic of dreams of youth?
How are we similar? Different?
Is it ever fair to generalize?
What role does religion play in all this business of cultivating wisdom?
How many pathways, doors into wise action, living, consciousness are there?
Could we count them?
Are we okay if we aren't wise?
Who determines this anyway?
Is there a grade we get in school for being wise?
What would a "Cultivating Wisdom" course look like?
At what point would you enroll yourself or your spouse or your children?

Happy Contemplating!

Blessings, Peace,
"The Dreams of Youth"

Hindus and Buddhists are way ahead of us Westerners in terms of what their young people idealize. They're led to idealize holiness, inner freedom, inner truth, rather than simply outer success. Our drive for outer success has given us tremendous advantages in terms of the scientific and industrial revolutions, but Asia and Africa are more able to triumph over the inner world. Wisdom is still idealized as the value that binds them together. During my travels I was glad to see, in Africa especially, the almost universal puberty rites and initiation rites still in place. Basically they are intense, three-month CCD programs that work. The young people are taken apart by the wise men or women of the tribe and taught what wisdom is: This is what holds us together as a people. This is what we stand for, this is who we are, these are our values. And when those young men and women return from those kind of groupings, they know who they are. In our culture were forever searching for our values, what we want to believe in, what we might want to commit ourselves to. Adolescence, the time of open options, now lasts until age thirty-two in the West! In some cultures adolescence really ends as early as sixteen and seventeen. You often see that in the self-assurance of young people who find their ground and meaning much earlier. I suspect we actually are stunted and paralyzed by having too many options. We are no longer the developed world; we are the overdeveloped world.

Fr. Richard Rohr,
Daily Reflection for Wednesday, October 24, 2007.


Julia Dinsmore said...

I still can't shake the notion that one of your callings is
TEACHING sacred beings we call "youth"!


Sr. Rafael said...

Dear Melissa,

I think Fr. Rohr has some wisdom there in believing our youth are delayed in their maturation. I used to think that as I taught high school, too. Is it too much emphasis on sports? too much emphasis on being about to earn a living? on being married? on settling down, or is it the possibility of being able to come back home, of knowing that parents may live into their eighties, nineties and that there is still "plenty of time" to please them? In a country where the life expectancy may be less, I believe there is a little more pressure to grow up. We are loath to think our boys should matue at the age of puberty, which is basically what a bar mitzvah holds out as expectation. Too much school. A good many boys would agree on that when they are in high school. We all know a lot of young men who dropped out and did make good. But now there is even more reason to think that 12 or 14 years of schooling is absolutely necessary. As for me, I still have not had as many years of consecutive schooling as a high school senior. I went to work when I was in 10th grade, fnished h.s., to be sure, but then after two and a half years of college, I began teaching. I have never regretted taking my schooling intermittently. I got my PhD in 1994 (WISDOM??? At least enough to know that I have become totally useless in the work world. I have too much education. Evenif I were younger I could not be hired.) So, I don't know what our South African friends think, but I do believe that their rites of passage are important and valuable and that here in the West they are very hard to duplicate or replicate or adjust or adapt.

Love and Peace and lots of creative thinking on this subject.

Sr. Rafael

Chris Johnson said...

As scary as it may seem (given our diametrically opposed political viewpoints), I actually agree with these thoughts. I think back to when I was in college, and what my perspective was at the time of foreign students at the University of Nebraska. I always thought that they were so studious because they felt so lucky to have the opportunity to pursue higher education, something that I know I and many others took for granted. While that might have been part of the reason for their drive and focus, I now feel that more of it had to do with their level of maturity, and sense of self in the world.

While the reason for much of this probably can be attributed to something on the "individual" level, I think acknowledgement needs to be given to what takes place at the "cultural" or "community" level. Their society holds a much higher respect for wisdom, and that responsibility is shared by both the community as well as the elders knowing that it is their responsibility to bestow that wisdom and the importance of wisdom upon adolescents. I think that is where we miss the target in our culture. So much praise for materialistic goods, and not enough praise for items or ideas of intrinsic worth. People say that it's harder being a kid these days because you have so many more outside influences than previous generations. I think it's going to be much harder as a parent to instill values on children growing up in a morally corrupt society. This begs the question: if parents aren't going to take responsibility for their children, and instill the values that help shape a responsible culture, and we're opposed to government establishing laws that impose moral values, can we really expect our children to make the right choices when their forced to choose a way of life?

I call it the "wussification" of America. We're pushed towards coddling our children as they grow up: let's play games but not keep score; let's not have winners and losers; P.E. classes where they jump rope, with imaginary rope because they don't want to affect the fragile psyche of children who might not be good at it. This tendency towards needing to feel "warm and fuzzy" has left our children unprepared to deal with the realities of failure, and understanding the rewards that come from giving 100%, and still failing. And so, in my mind, as a substitute, our generation has latched onto a motivation of worldly goods, and materialism. We have reached a point where it is not just allowed, but more socially acceptable to substite tangible rewards for intangible values (MTV's Cribs, anything on E! TV, athletes with contracts of $20,000,000 / yr, and endorsements on top of that). It's all driven by the dollar, and that's not going away for quite awhile. It's up to us to shape our children's moral fiber into something that reaches beyond that. My personal opinion is that we won't see that cultural shift for several generations, and times will probably get much worse between now and then, while the public perception will be that things are better than ever. In a country where 86% of the population claims to practice some denomination of Christianity, it's amazing what a small percentage of them don't often stop to consider, "What would Jesus do?"

These are just some ramblings off the top of my head, and you may have fun picking them apart, but that's what I have to offer on a Thursday morning. Hope you're having a good day. It was good seeing you this past weekend, even though we didn't spend much time together.