Have you put a tool in the hands of a teenager lately ... any tool; hammer, screwdriver, knife, drill, shovel? I could stretch that to most people under the age of 25.
OK, it could be anyone. It will soon become obvious whether they know how to use it or not, just by the way they hold it. This is equally true with driving a boat, a tractor, a motorcycle, or any other vehicle. And we can extend this to how people interact with their environment when it needs to be manipulated for better use -- as in building something, remodeling a room, moving something, or repairing something broken.
This knowledge of tools and manipulating one's environment is learned through watching and practice. One of the greatest gifts to give another person is a skill in using tools to make something that is useful or brings joy. This is gaining wisdom and passing wisdom on to others. Wisdom is not only personified by an ancient person sitting quietly and doling out pithy proverbs, it is also personified by aged, calloused and scarred hands. I don't know anyone who has spent many years working with their hands that doesn't have a mark or two left on them. Wisdom is personified by a grandmother watching as a young one sews a pillow.
We see and hear wisdom in dance and in music. The arts are great repositories of cultural wisdom, some of which is gained through painful experience and challenging retelling. In literature we read the wisdom of times past. Some of it is ageless and some of it is clearly meant only for its time.
The opening of Proverbs, the most well-known book of wisdom in the Bible, includes all parts of life in wisdom, "That men may know wisdom and instruction, understand words of insight, receive instruction in wise dealing, righteousness, justice, and equity; that prudence may be given to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth -- the wise man also may hear and increase in learning, and the man of understanding acquire skill, to understand a proverb and a figure, the words of the wise and their riddles." (Prov. 1:2-5).
When king Solomon was building the temple in Jerusalem, he asked for help from other places. The king of Tyre described the metal smith that he sent to Solomon in a letter, "Now I have sent a skilled man, endued with understanding ..." (I Chronicles 2:13). The wise woman described at the end of Proverbs is said to be successful in business and in teaching kindness.
This Monday is Labor Day. It is a day set aside each year to honor and remember the labor movement in the United States. It is a history full of heroes and villains. It is a history of tenacity and stubbornness, of peaceful marches and horrific violence and abuse. It is a story of seeking equality and fair wages and overreaching greed and laziness. As with any story in our history, it is complex. What cannot be denied is that the labor movement raised the standards of living for millions of Americans and for the time being made it possible for children and grandchildren to have more opportunity that previous generations.
There has been a much-needed movement back toward the trades; vocations that require people skilled (wise) in working with their hands. The call for more education in trades or "manual training" is not new. In 1880, C.M. Woodward founded the St. Louis Manual Training School as part of Washington University in St. Louis. He published a book in 1890 in which he argued for manual training for those who were not inclined to traditional education.
He lists 14 arguments in favor of such. One of my favorites is, "Manual training stimulates love for truth, simplicity, and intellectual honesty. The comparative worthlessness of inaccuracy, of a want of agreement between the thought and the deed that was to realize the thought is made as manifest as sunlight. If a fitting is not true; if a device is not just what it seems to be, it is a failure and a sham, and the boy learns to rate them as such. ... The boy who learns to despise 'work out of truth' who will not 'tell a lie in wood' will by necessary and unconscious process ... despise a greater degree a lie in words."
His summary of this argument is much needed today, "The unchanging laws of physics and mechanics admit no bribe and connive at no deception. The pupil is stimulated to love and respect honesty, not by resisting but by seeing that dishonesty is a sign of weakness and incompetency."
I find it still to be true that generally good craftsmen, those who do good, solid work exhibit these qualities. Labor and wisdom go together.
Sean Niestrath lives and ministers in Madisonville. You may contact him via email at email@example.com.