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  • Reverend James Squire

Wisdom at the Rodeo

Updated: Feb 13, 2021

No one talks about the value of wisdom anymore. Perhaps interest in it has waned with the ascent of our technological culture. You can get what you need to know by going to google and punching in a concern or a question such as a medical diagnosis about which you want more information. It doesn’t take much trouble for you to get instant answers. It use to be that we valued more highly people who had a lot of experience in a matter or someone who was older. We no longer look to people with personal experience from a lot of failure matched with a lot of success in life. Wisdom comes to someone willing to put in the effort to be in the mix of things in life and not to sit on the proverbial sidelines. Wisdom does not play it safe. It is involved in the fabric of our lives whether we like it or not.

When someone is in the middle of solving a challenging problem, wisdom wants to hear someone say, “Don’t worry, he’s been to this rodeo many times. He will do what needs to be done.” Wisdom is “expertise plus” and is usually given to those who have been “around the block.” Some call it having the X factor or having the right stuff.

Wisdom is different from expertise. Malcolm Gladwell in his research on successful people demonstrated that it takes 10,000 hours to reach a level of excellence in any given field. A standard joke is, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall” in New York City? The answer is “practice, practice, practice”!

A concert pianist many not be someone that you would think has wisdom. Choose your top athlete in any given sport and you may not label him or her wise.

You may know gifted teachers but you may not say that they are people with wisdom. Education doesn’t seem to guarantee it as we hear people say about a grandmother “that she didn’t have much education but she had great wisdom”.

What makes wisdom a unique gift? There is a key in the rodeo metaphor. I have attended several rodeos in Colorado where close friends live. Everyone should take in a rodeo to see why that word is used to describe someone with that intangible extra, something that we call wisdom that is experience plus.

Once the bull rider or rope wrangler takes off into the arena, the crowd cheers even when he is thrown and hops up dusty and bruised. The audience may see him get back on another horse later in the competition. Wise people are people who know victory and defeat. They know success and failure. They have experienced the agony and ecstasy of life. They are seasoned. Your age does not matter! It can happen at any time.

Teddy Roosevelt used the image of an arena to describe this rodeo creating wisdom:

President Theodore Roosevelt gave his famous address, “Citizen in a Republic”, at the Sorbonne in Paris, France, on April 23, 1920. He describes how someone gains wisdom in life.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deed could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” (Roosevelt 2014)

One of the people that I knew who had wisdom was a former student of mine, Alex Bilotti, EA 12. She was a small person in stature but a giant in the world of wisdom. She gave a chapel address when she was a senior at our school. She said in her concluding remarks:

“But I do know this. Because cancer chose me and because of what I’ve gone through I’ve been given a rare glimpse of death. If I would like to leave you with anything, it would be to think of one of those servants whispering to the emperor Memento mori, remember death. Don’t dwell on it, don’t get lost in it, just remember it and live your life accordingly. And though I think each person is entitled to figuring out what that means for themselves, for me at least, it has meant to live from a deeper spot. Not to do more, but to appreciate more. Not to always be happy but to figure out why I’m sad. To carve into this stuff called life because I know that at some point, I and those around me will no longer be here to do so. Thank you.”

I can't count the number of times that I have used her words “to live from a deeper spot.”

If you want to see and hear what wisdom looks like and sounds like, look below for her

Chapel Address in 2012 during her senior year at the Episcopal Academy. The text of her chapel address is found as well in my memoir on pages 239-246. She died from Ewing's Sarcoma in her Junior Year at the University of Pennsylvania. Alex had been to many rodeos over her years of agony and ecstasy and many people learned wisdom from her words and life.

People who didn’t know her but knew of her attended her Mass of Christian Burial along with 1000 of her friends and family. They knew there was something about her that was different. That something, among many other gifts, was the gift of wisdom.

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