Great and Unmatched Wisdom

Sometimes a day starts out normal until a nugget of wisdom bursts forth from the heavens. It might start with a profound statement during a conversation with a friend, a quote from a TED Talk, or a meme shared on social media. When we see it and recognize it for what it is, we must stop to ponder its worth, then seek ways to apply it to our life. (Before you push share, run it through Snopes to make sure, though.)

Rarely does great and unmatched wisdom come when expected. One who has such merit typically doesn’t just put it on display. Rather, they humbly use their gift for the benefit of others. Think of the wisest people through history who we are still quoting:

Confucius, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Jesus, Winston Churchill, Maya Angelou, and King Solomon. If they had only had Twitter they could have changed the world even more radically. How many likes and retweets this gem from Socrates would have gotten?

I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.


Wisdom is deliberate, not reactive. It is the patient application of experience, good judgment, and knowledge. It is also something you either have or you don’t; you can’t buy a wisdom development kit online and flex new wisdom in 30-60 days. In great men and women, wisdom isn’t flaunted, simply applied when necessary.

Often, such wisdom is the “behind-the-scenes type” that we’ll never see. It is the wise single mother somehow making ends meet or the small business owner keeping people employed when others would fold. The wisest people may not be leading in the polls, they may just be living life a little richer than the rest of us.

There was but one pearl of great and unmatched wisdom dispensed yesterday. It didn’t come from Twitter or Washington, DC, where wisdom tends to drown. No, it came from my dentist. He seems a humble man and I appreciate his desire to impart his wisdom on me because it will be used for my good (and now hopefully yours.)

Angelically framed by the bright light behind his head, he spoke behind a mask of brilliance proclaiming that I need to:

“continue to brush the teeth you want to keep.”

  Friends, that is great and unmatched wisdom we can all use.

The Quest for a Shithole

A young soldier’s first bivouac is an overwhelming thing. Fresh off the cattle car in 1987, they handed me sixty pounds of gear, a helmet, and a non-working M16 and led me and the other wide-eyed privates on a ten-mile march. At dusk, we stopped and got in line for some manner of disgusting food and were told to make camp.

I paired up with a young man from Louisiana named Alvin Lee. We were trying to figure out how to turn our shelter halves into a tent when something started brewing. I headed off into the woods with my Army-issued entrenching tool (folding shovel). When I found a suitable spot, I dug a little hole in the soft, brown Missouri soil, designating it as my shithole. Before I deposited in it, it wasn’t a shithole. In fact, it wasn’t even a hole. That little spot of earth was a pristine oasis of nature until I came by. Logically speaking, what makes a hole a shithole is the contents of the hole.

I’d like to introduce you to two men:

I met Mduduzi in Swaziland — a little country inside of South Africa that has been ravaged by poverty and AIDS. It is one of the poorest countries in the word. I was there to work with an organization caring for orphans left behind by the AIDS epidemic. One day we got the chance to go into the community to help with some projects in Mduduzi’s village. AIDS had claimed his father and his mother was deep in its clutches. I got to speak to him and found him bright, articulate, and very humble. He knew at least three languages and translated for me so I could play with some village children who were gawking at my skin. As we added a roof to a structure for his family, he helped in every way possible. If he lived anywhere else this young man could easily find success. What he lacked then and unfortunately probably still does is opportunity.




William is deaf. He lived in Port-au-Prince, Haiti when the big earthquake hit. In the destruction, most of the deaf couldn’t hear the passing trucks offering water and food and many perished. A few men rounded up those who couldn’t hear and with the help of the Red Cross they created an enclave of deaf people — allowing them access to necessities of life during the early days of the disaster. When I was there it was time to move the enclave to permanent housing outside the city. William is a gardener and a good one at that. I was fascinated with his ingenuity. At his new home, we set up a little hydroponic system he had created and a composter William had fabricated out of garbage collected in the city. Because the move took him to the cleaner countryside, William told me he was concerned about his ability to find garbage to fuel his inventions. A generous man, he wouldn’t let me go without giving me one of his prize plants.


These men live in countries now referred to as shithole countries. By definition, when you refer to a place that way, you are inferring that the contents (in this case, the people) are shit. Yet they are not shit. They are often industrious and intelligent men and women who lack opportunity. I don’t pretend to know the politics of the visa lottery, but basic human dignity tells me that I am not far removed from them. Only the latitude of my birth provides me opportunities that neither of them will ever have.

It angers me that this new designation comes from the country I call home and I refuse to be associated with it. In fact, I would rather be lumped in a hole with Mduzuzi or William than the President of the United States. How sad is that? They were born into hardship not privilege, yet both respect others and work hard despite their difficult surroundings. Yes, there are bad and unproductive people in every country, including ours. But that doesn’t make any entire nation a shithole and all its citizens shit. To refer to an entire place with such arrogant disdain is foolish and way beneath the dignity that a high office should possess.

Every day the bar of decency gets lowered in my country and we should all outraged by it. Yet many leaders remain quiet. Silence in the face of such contemptuous behavior doesn’t distance you from it or make you prudent, it makes you complicit.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”

-Dr. Martin Luther King


And by the way, if you scour the world for holes, we’re digging several to build a fence we can’t afford. Maybe if we’re looking for the real shithole, we should search around Pennsylvania Avenue.