Other Wise

By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   November 1, 2018

Maybe you’ve seen this bit of sagacity somewhere before:


The “translation” is: “Too wise you are. Too wise you be. I see you are too wise for me.”

Very clever – but so what? For one thing, if true wisdom is really all it’s cracked up to be, how can anybody be “too wise”? Aren’t most of our present problems attributable to the fact that certain people aren’t wise enough? Politicians in particular don’t attain power on the basis of their wisdom. For some reason, that attribute is supposed to be more the province of eminent judges – or of your mother.

In any case, it is sometimes hard to tell the truly wise from those reputedly so. What are we to think of King James I of England, who was called “The wisest fool in Christendom”? He patronized Shakespeare, sponsored a new translation of the Bible, and promoted the colonization of the Americas. But he also had some ideas people considered quirky, such as a strong, not-so-unwise, aversion to tobacco-smoking.

You may remember a novel by Jerzy Kosinski called Being There, later made into a movie, in which the mysterious hero, a gardener named Chance, utters platitudes which are somehow so acceptable that they are taken to be great truths. As result, this simple-minded man obtains great political influence.

The point is that, in order to acquire a following, it is not really necessary to BE wise, but only to appear as if you are. Reactions to my own epigrams have sometimes made me feel like that gardener, especially because my works have no consistent teaching, but in fact often contradict one another. For example, here, in one panel, I have a frisking lamb, with the message that “IT’S A GOOD DAY FOR LIVING!” But this is closely followed by another Thought, which complains that “JOY TODAY IS NOT ENOUGH – I WANT FULLY GUARANTEED FUTURE JOY.”

So, don’t come to me for wisdom – unless wisdom means seeing what other people miss, while probably missing what other people see.

Still, there are people whom we quite rightly respect because of the way they think. It may be based on age or experience or learning, or some indefinable quality that breeds trust and generates confidence. I wish I had known more people like that. 

The only one who comes readily to mind was the man who published all my books – (so you may say it was a case of mutual admiration.) His name was Howard Weeks, and he had a small Santa Barbara firm called Woodbridge Press. I suppose I can write freely about him, now that he is dead. He was soft-spoken and unassuming, and the only disagreements we ever had concerned matters of ethics, on which his standards were much higher than mine. For example, in my book of miscellaneous writings called, Be A Good Neighbor and Leave Me Alone, I wanted to include the lyrics of a song I had written called, “The Girl I Left in Berkeley” (to the tune of “The Girl I Left Behind Me”). But there was one stanza Howard objected to, because it included the words,

“Although it’s fair to love and share,
She shared her love too freely.”

Since the woman in question was real, and then still living, though she wasn’t identified anywhere in the work, he felt she could possibly be offended by such an implication of immorality. I didn’t share his scruples at all on this point, and as an author, I strongly objected to any tampering with my text. But in the end, I had to bow to Solomon, so to speak, and let the baby be cut in half. As a result, that second line, as finally published, reads, “Some share their love too freely.”

Sometimes wisdom may lie not in what you say, but in what you don’t say. If I may take credit for one such instance, a poem of mine was chosen by a friend to appear in an anthology he was editing. When the book appeared, I was aghast to discover that my contribution was full of misprints, some destroying the meaning of whole lines. I had submitted it digitally, so only the editor could be to blame. 

I could have made a big fuss. But he was very proud of this publication, and anyway, a second edition was unlikely. So, I kept my big mouth shut – and just choke a little whenever I think about it.


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