Doug Taylor and Rabbi Morton Moskowitz

"Slow down!" I yelled, with every ounce of vehemence I could muster. I might as well have spit at a hurricane. The souped-up brown station wagon, piloted by a teen-ager and crammed with about a hundred more, squealed around the corner and flew down the street doing at least 45 in this quiet residential 25 mile-per-hour neighborhood. I turned back to my friend, the King of Rational Thought.
"I may not know much about wisdom," I said, "but that sure wasn't it."
The heady fragrance of early blossoms, propelled by a mild afternoon breeze, wafted around us like exotic perfume as we continued our walk. We had been discussing the difference between wisdom and foolishness. I had thought it was pretty obvious until he asked me to define wisdom. Then I had gotten stuck.
"True," he said, emotionally unruffled by the event. "In fact, that was a perfect example of a lack of wisdom. If we agree that wisdom and foolishness are opposites, and the driver of that car was foolish, how would you define wisdom?"
I struggled again. "It's making smart choices. It's not being dumb. It's not driving your car like an idiot." I finally stopped, realizing I was venting, not defining.
As usual, my friend sensed my dilemma.
"Consider this," he said. "Why does auto insurance for single male drivers under age 25 cost more than for any other demographic category?"
"They have more accidents," I replied.
"I know," he said. "But why do they have more accidents?"
This time I thought before I spoke. "Well, they take more chances. They're more reckless. They're less responsible."
"Let's look at the first one," he said. "They take more chances. Why do they take more chances?"
I hesitated. "Because they think they're immortal and don't see the consequences of their actions?"
"Exactly," he said. "You've hit the key word: consequences. Consider this definition. Wisdom is the ability to see, and act on the basis of, consequences."
I pondered that as we strolled past a bakery emanating smells that competed hard for my attention. I wondered if Socrates ever had to do battle with freshly baked cinnamon rolls.
"Makes sense to me," I said, holding my breath to avoid the enticing scent. "I assume, then, that foolishness would simply be the inability to do that."
"Right again," he replied. "Unfortunately, seeing consequences and reaching proper conclusions, let alone acting on them, is not something we often study, in school or otherwise.
"It's ironic," he continued, "that we expect mathematicians, scientists, physicists, doctors, and engineers, to deduce proper conclusions. Yet we fail to teach and apply the same principles in everyday life. Logic is offered in many colleges and universities as an elective. Yet there was a time in history when the study of logic was considered a prerequisite to learning any other subject. For how could you possibly reach a correct conclusion in any area of study without knowing how to analyze consequences and reach proper conclusions at all?"
He turned to me. "Think you'd care to have your health diagnosed by a doctor who has never been taught how to reach a proper conclusion?" he asked.
I winced at the idea. And then I thought about politicians, and policy-makers, and judges, and-
"Not a terribly encouraging idea," I replied, cutting off my own scary thoughts. "So what's the answer?"
"Practice," he said. "Take any situation or decision that you're facing, and analyze it rationally. Look at the consequences of the various choices open to you. Avoid letting your emotions creep in. They're likely to give you a false picture. Then make a decision based on your best analysis of the consequences."
I put his advice into effect immediately. I thought about the cinnamon rolls two blocks back, then took one look at my waistline.
I kept walking.