For wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it~ Proverbs 8:11 KJV
I have been tutoring a seven-year-old boy twice a week for a little over a year now. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I help him with his homework and then we work to improve his reading and writing skills. I will not lie-I have a soft spot for Chandler. I think it’s at least partly because he’s a bit eccentric for a second grader.
Chandler’s favorite food is Cheez-Its and he dreams of becoming a fighter pilot someday. Chandler knows everything there is to know about airplanes, dolphins and warships. He is convinced that America was the instigator in World War II and is extremely proud of that “fact.” He is unfailingly patriotic, has an offbeat sense of humor, and a uniquely quirky way of viewing the world.
He also has a tenacious stubborn streak. Because he can be stubborn, motivating him can be a bit of an issue, especially when it comes to handwriting.
Chandler would rather eat bees than write neatly.
One afternoon last spring I became desperate. We had ninety minutes and three pages of homework to complete. We also needed to do his reading for the week. Every page of homework was handwriting intensive and Chandler was in no mood to cooperate. I attempted to inspire him with kindness and encouraging words, and he dawdled. I tried being stern, but that only intensified his level of stubbornness.
Finally, I made him an offer he would have been a fool to refuse. I offered to give him one piece of candy for every neatly written word. The results were truly miraculous. The only real downside was that by the time he got half way through the second page he had eaten so much candy I was really scared he would throw-up all over my kitchen table. I gathered my wits enough to have him put the rest of the candy in a bag to eat later. He went home that afternoon with three pages of neatly completed homework and a sandwich baggie stuffed with candy.
The next week, sweet little Chandler transformed into a greedy overlord. He expected to be rewarded with candy for every single word he wrote. He went home with huge bags of candy after our tutoring sessions. His handwriting improved dramatically, but only when he was with me and only when I paid the little punk off with candy.
It wasn’t until Chandler suggested that he should get a piece of candy for every properly written letter that I acknowledged my stupidity. That day I began the painful process of ending the madness. Because I had allowed the insanity to continue for so long, it took almost a month to get things back on track.
No one would guess from reading this story, but I am not an idiot. I know better than to bribe a child with refined sugar. I know better than to bribe a child with anything. I have better sense than to allow an obstinate, eccentric seven-year-old-boy to run the show. I am well aware of the dangers of allowing bad behavior to persist unchallenged, and yet to my everlasting shame I did all of those things.
I have decided that this whole silly episode was not really about smart or stupid. It was about wisdom, or in my case an appalling lack of wisdom. My error was in supposing that the problem needed to be solved immediately by any means necessary.
As I mulled this over, I concluded that many of the missteps we make in life are rooted in the desire to take a short cut to solve a problem or make life easier. Drugs and alcohol are a faster and more comfortable way of dealing with pain than self-examination and change. Bribing a child will get the job done without the effort necessary to build character and self-discipline. Alleviating loneliness with sex does not require the work needed to build healthy lifelong relationships. Cheating takes less effort than learning and yelling is easier than discussing. Casually dismissing God as a myth appears to make life easier and less complicated, but like every short cut it comes with a hefty price-tag.
The differences between wisdom and reasoning are subtle. Worldly thinking is all about results and so the end always justifies the means. Wisdom understands there is more to a successful outcome than desirable results. Worldly thinking is all about getting the task accomplished. Wisdom is about getting the job done with integrity and in a way that will produce lasting change. Wisdom is the gift that enables us to look down the road and see the consequences of our actions and—if need be—correct our course before we reap an unpleasant harvest.