A proposal from Brett McCracken for a Wisdom Pyramid in the vein of the USDA’s food pyramid to help us navigate the often overwhelming waters of the information age has inspired me to tackle some of my questions, criticisms, and hopefully helpful suggestions for such a project.
Like many people, I assumed that the pyramids were built by slaves. A quick google search revealed that, based on recent evidence of graves discovered near the base of the pyramids, archaeologists now believe that the workers that built the pyramids may have been poor, but were not slaves. I’m not sure that changes much in my opinion of the grandiose tombs as a symbol of opulence, oppression, and power. This is one of the things that rubs me the wrong way about using it as a symbol for discerning and discovering Wisdom.
You Get What You Need
The symbol of a pyramid can potentially communicate different things as a model. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is usually depicted as a pyramid. The most basic needs are at the bottom and they build on each other. You have to have the needs at the bottom met first before you can move up the pyramid to the pinnacle which is self-actualization or self-fulfillment. This pyramid depicts a process of progression towards a goal or achievement. The idea seems to me like climbing a mountain to reach the peak. The problem with that is that you don’t really leave the lower needs behind. They continue to be part of life, and most of us move up and down the pyramid. It’s possible that people who don’t have their physiological needs met will still feel belonging to a group. So while the hierarchy of needs is helpful in some respects in depicting something true, it fails to grasp the whole and may actually leave out some important aspects of human existence.
The Pyramid Diet
The USDA food pyramid and McCracken’s Wisdom Pyramid both intend to communicate that you should consume more of some things than others. Too much of candy or Twitter might be bad for you so take it in small doses. In general, that seems like a good use of this shape as a model for something. It’s not particularly bad… unless you are wrong about what goes where in your pyramid. Turns out the latest research in nutrition contradicts the ideas communicated by the original pyramid. Things we thought we should eat a lot of now we think are not so good for us. The 2005 update gave us some stairs and eating balanced is going to get you to the top… I guess? Still kinda weird. The attempt to update in 2011 with portions on a plate also misses the mark, because that’s not how normal people eat. I don’t want to try and wade into the very confusing and sometimes controversial world of diets and nutrition. Suffice it to say that the pyramid model didn’t work out so well for giving us wisdom about what to eat.
More or Less
The Wisdom Pyramid also tries to give advice succinctly by saying consume more of this information and less of that. I have already shared my thoughts on why nature being shoved in the middle is problematic. I think it’s also too simplistic and problematic to say read a lot of the Bible, go to church a bunch, spend some time in nature, but be careful not to spend too much time on the internet, and definitely watch out for Twitter.
First, I don’t think this is really how most people operate and I don’t think more guilt and shame about missing your quiet time or not going to church enough is helpful. I have had times in my life when a break from the church was very healthy and helpful. I have had times when I was deep in the Bible, studying and reading it every day and immersed in its worlds. Other times I have not spent as much time reading it daily or studying it intensely. I may not be avoiding it, but it might be a season when I just have less time. Let those with young children have ears to hear!
Second, I don’t think the internet or Twitter or social media is the real problem. It’s a long-held tradition for individuals and communities to find scapegoats for their own sins. Social media is not the problem. We are. Avoiding the internet or Twitter is not going to make you a better person. In fact, it might simply allow you to continue to avoid the worst parts of yourself and give you that glowing sense of superiority and self-righteousness. By all means, do what works best for you in relation to social media, but don’t pretend that your fasting or avoiding social media is what makes you a better person.
It’s possible that this is just a problem with any model (perhaps especially 2D models) that tries to depict or describe something complex, dynamic, and mysterious. Questions about what to eat, what human beings need, or what wisdom look like are not answered easily by simplistic symbols or images. This is not how the Christian Tradition or other spiritual traditions teach something like wisdom.
So, what is wisdom then? Maybe we should understand better what it is we are trying to depict before we try to come up with a better model or image. For those following along then, I’m adding a post answering that question before moving on to the final two questions.