Foolish Wisdom

I’m now 84 years old, ambulatory, monogamous, cheerful, perspicacious, self-funded and drug-free.  My life’s been interesting: conversations with Albert Einstein in Princeton before he died; drug trips with Timothy Leary at Harvard before he died.  Professor and pot-head, genius and jerk: interesting.

I tried to be brilliant like Einstein and became an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the age of 26.  But then I tried to be famous like Timothy Leary ([i]) and ended up in the drunk-tank of the Birmingham Alabama jail.  But for the grace of God I too would be dead – or brain dead.  Not smart.

However, I’ve had nothing in my blood but blood since 1976, no mind/mood-altering substances.  I had to quit smoking, gambling, drinking, drugs, overeating – and then quit constantly talking about the quitting.  That was the hardest, to quit talking.  It seemed to help if I wrote.  I had a book published in 1974 that didn’t sell.  I wrote what people ought to read, not what they wanted.  I still make mistakes like that.  I hope this isn’t one of them.

I was asked to distil wisdom into 1200 words for a magazine and I said “yes” because I believe wisdom is better condensed.  It isn’t wise if it’s long-winded.

1)   So my first advice is, be a minimalist.  Don’t collect.  Trim down.  Ruthlessly discard.  Be wise: create space.  Let others fill it.  Einstein says empty space and time are important.  Actually, things (mass) just “bend” space-time.  So keep it straight: make room.  Give yourself time.  Shorten it.  Less is more.  Don’t accumulate.  Be concise…but I’m getting long-winded again – about brevity!

2)   Furthermore, I don’t believe in giving advice.  The most famous psychologist – the Dr. Phil of his day – was Professor Carl Rogers of the University of Wisconsin.  Rogers thought that giving advice created a power hierarchy.  The advice-giver is superior to the recipient.  He strongly felt it was unproductive.  So Dr. Rogers recommended that we should never give advice.  And I now pass that wisdom on to you.

3)   Dale Carnegie published How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, in 1948.  In that book he said never expect gratitude.  Dale Carnegie advised us to think of Jesus Christ who healed ten lepers and only one turned to thank Him as the other nine just walked away.  Since you can’t do better than Jesus, never ever expect gratitude.   Over the years I have saved myself much worry and resentment simply by remembering what Dale Carnegie said about gratitude.  Will it work for you as it did for me?

4)   By now you should have noticed my hypocrisy.  I wrote at length about being concise.  Then I advised you not to give advice.  Finally I said, “Don’t expect gratitude” and asked you to send a thank-you card.  Why didn’t I practice what I preached?  Because I was giving you a test.  Those were quiz items.  I really hope you can spot my mistakes because, if you can’t, I reckon you’ll miss the point of the Great Truth I’m now going to lay on you.

You see, in my old age I can’t claim to be wise because I’ve made so many stupid mistakes.  I can’t necessarily claim to be right, but I can claim to be relevant.  So please give this next vital thought a chance.  As the Bible (1 Thess. 5:21) says, “Test all things.  Hang on to that which is good.”   It could change your life.

A vital thought

People think that wisdom is important because it leads to success.  But in my old age I have learned to believe the opposite: what we call success is only important if it leads to wisdom.  That’s my vital thought: success is overrated.  It’s failure that makes you wise.  Here’s what some very successful people had to say:

“Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.” Bill Gates

“The exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess Success is our national disease.”  William James

“The toughest thing about success is that you’ve got to keep on being a success.”  Irving Berlin

“Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.”   Dale Carnegie

“Success is going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm.”  Winston Churchill

“Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.”  Albert Einstein

“Failure is success if we learn from it.”   Malcolm Forbes

“Success is like death. The more successful you become, the higher the houses in the hills get and the higher the fences get.” Kevin Spacey

“Nothing recedes like success.” Walter Winchell

…and then there’s me.  Put this on my tombstone.

It is human to desire success but divine to embrace failure and turn to God.  Charles Slack

In 1980 I finally embraced abject failure and in total despair turned everything over to the care of my Saviour.  As a result, I now have all the benefits just as though I had been successful.  I just can’t take credit in any case.

Example: My first wife left me because I was a misbehaving alcoholic.  My second wife left me because I became a religious fanatic.  Both were no doubt justified.  Yet today I have all the benefits of a successful marriage.  Am I now a successful husband?  Probably not – nobody says so, even my beloved wife, Sue.  My marriage is happy through her patience and the grace of God.  Joyce Meyer said it well, “I give the glory to God and the credit to my spouse while I just take the privilege”.

Same goes with my work.  Striving for academic success to the point of obsession (including cheating), I got my BA, MA and Ph.D. in psychology and rose to become an Assistant Professor.  Then I became a drug addict by experimenting with LSD and other hallucinogens.  At first this was legitimate research, but not for long: eventually I was an embarrassment to my profession.

In 1976, I got off drugs and alcohol and migrated to Australia to start a new life. I continued to strive for success and failed, and I didn’t handle failure well.  I made some people boiling mad: the story of my cheating on exams came out on the front page of the Melbourne Truth newspaper.

I had to experience public disgrace in order to embrace personal failure and turn to God.  That’s when blessings began to flow.  And flow they did!  My three children and their mother totally forgave my neglect and indiscretion.  My financial situation moved into the black.  My marriage is a success.  I’m on the board of a Bible school, Chairman of a drug program, a fellow of Drug Free Australia, and I write for cross-connect.  I’m treated with respect as a citizen of Australia.  (Aussies love to “cut down tall poppies” but, even more, they love the battler.)  I recently retired, after twelve years, as pastor of a small country church.  Am I a success?  No.  God is successful: I am blessed.

Dependable wisdom: Turn to God and the worst is for the best. (1197 words plus footnote)

[i] In case you didn’t know, President Richard Nixon called Timothy Leary “the most dangerous man in America”.  Using his academic status, Leary advocated  hallucinogenic drugs and was responsible for “turning on” the Beatles.  Together with a host of street people, writers, rock stars and idle rich, he sparked the hippy revolution of the nineteen sixties.

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