1. Wisdom means to make good out of what life throws at us. I would distinguish between knowledge and wisdom. One may know a lot of facts but that in itself does not make one wise. Wisdom is knowledge plus experience and good judgment. For example, learning to drive can be a frightening experience. That’s why my cousin Vinnie Bolger and his wife, Joan, gave me the confidence and experience I needed in order to drive safely. Through experience one hopefully learns good judgment such as to leave adequate space between one’s car and the car in front. Also, 20 years ago, I was shocked and discouraged when Dr. Debbie Byron told me I had diabetes. I have learned to live with that disease by going to the gym almost daily and watching my diet, thus controlling my disease without any medication such as Metformin. In a sense, diabetes saved my life by making me aware that to live a long life, it was imperative to exercise more and lower my intake of sugar and carbs.
2. Think of what you have to do as easy, and it will become so. This was a bon mot of Emile Coue, a French psychotherapist at the turn of the 20th century. Thousands of ABD (All But Dissertation) students each year give up on writing their dissertations because they are overwhelmed by the work that’s involved. I have told many a doctoral candidate to just imagine it as writing a term paper. Then, make a connection between the first chapter and the second chapter. The big problem is this: one is tempted to read so much that doctoral candidates are hesitant to start the actual writing. However, students must at some point begin the writing. It’s akin to jumping off that diving board the first time. After that first splash in the water, the second dive is a piece of cake.
3. Live in the present. The past is past and not much can be done about it. The future has not yet arrived so don’t worry about it. After all, 90% of worries are imaginary. We cannot change the past so it’s a waste of time to linger on the past. Buddhists like the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh counsel us to live in the present. As we read in the Hebrew Scriptures Yahweh says to the Israelites “I shall be with you.” It’s not dangerous to hang on by a thread if Yahweh is on the other side holding that thread
4. To be genuinely happy, forget yourself and concentrate on thinking of others and their needs and wants.
5. Two persons looked out from prison bars. One saw mud and the other saw stars. I had two students who lost their jobs unexpectedly. One was a professor at a local college in Albany, N.Y., the other was a musician who worked at a local high school for 20 years and was terminated to “save money.” The professor was non- plussed and said “I see this loss as a challenge and I’ll find a better position somewhere else.” And, sure enough, a few months later he found another position and improved immediately his salary went up by a cool $5,000. The musician was devastated by his loss and developed stomach ulcers and depression. He told me he wanted to leave the Albany area and move to Florida. I told him that would be a huge mistake. He didn’t know anyone in Florida and he could tutor students in the Albany area for $25 an hour by giving them music lessons. I don’t know what he eventually decided to do but I made him think about the consequences of his actions.
6. If you disagree with me, you have something to give me. These words are from Helder Camara, Archbishop of Recife in Brazil in his book, "The Desert is Fertile."
I have repeated these words to my students often on the first day of the semester in order to tell them they need not agree with me in class. I also tell them to ask me the toughest questions they can in order to remind them that I don’t know everything, and that I define a university as consisting only of students, some of whom happen to teach.
Richard Penaskovic is an emeritus professor at Auburn University, who taught religious studies for 30 years.