Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Wintering into Wisdom

One of my greatest intrinsic satisfactions in my 44 years as a higher educator is the wonderful people I have met, learned from, worked with, enjoyed, and loved. One of my all time favorites is Betty Siegel, President Emerita of Kennesaw State University. A few years ago Betty started talking to me about her notion of her “wintering into wisdom.” At first I didn’t like the sound or thought of it for I feared I was not long to follow. It wasn’t the “wisdom” I feared at all, but the “winter.”

And now in this winter of all winters, I am OK with this notion of wintering into wisdom. Too bad we are in a society that worships youth and writes off so many of its older citizens as out of touch. But I am persuaded that I really do have things figured out, at least as far as it goes in the academy and accomplishing undergraduate student success—and some outside in real life things too. And this is a good place to be at. So I am just going to own it.

But it also occurs to me that “wintering into wisdom” is something that our own college students can achieve before they leave us. I am reminded of my younger son, Jonathan. When he was a senior at Elon University, he spent a very meaningful winter term in Costa Rica. He was very moved by this beautiful country, with the healthiest democracy in the region; a country that tops all the rankings for happiest people in the world; and the only country in the Caribbean and Central America that has the great distinction of never having been invaded by the US Marines in our gunboat diplomacy. In fact, there are some thinkers who correlate the happiness levels of the Costa Rican people with the total absence there of a military and hence expenditures of the military culture. Hmmm, what are the implications of this for the US.

Back to the subject at hand: I remember my son telling me that while on this 3-4 week visit to Costa Rica he was also accompanied by a number of other younger undergraduates. He told me how embarrassed he was by seeing younger students than him who couldn’t hold their liquor in public, “particularly the girls” he said, who embarrassed him to be an American guest in this other country.

As I Iistened to him at the time, and recalled his own drinking to excess during a first college year winter term in Jamaica, I observed: well how interesting; my son has wintered into wisdom on this winter term.

I do believe that as our undergraduates pass through our culture, to the extent we touch them at all in any profound ways, it is possible for them to winter into wisdom.

So what are you doing to facilitate for your students their own wintering into wisdom before you send them forth?

-John Gardner


  1. I feel that more of us need to both read both philosophy and history and apply those lessons in an interdisciplinary manner as a means of wintering into wisdom. I am not a formal philosopher, and I have a penchant for philosophy that some have deemed a diminished form of the craft -- pragmatism. So there will be those who disagree with my approach. But my experience shows the merits of this approach, and I have seen the detrimental outcomes associated with failing to consider or apply the approach of which I write.

    I prefer this kind of "loved wisdom" because it is the form that directly ties to the lived experience. And it is within the lived experience that change occurs. I know of no wars that were averted; famines avoided; or diseases cured as a result of pondering about how many angels dance on the head of a pin. But I do know that Dewey-based/connected pragmatism has guided the kind of education that is directly tied to a healthy democratic culture.

    This is why, from my perspective, wintering into wisdom is facilitated by knowledge, application and synthesis of history and of pragmatism in its many forms. One should learn and draw from the past, in the present, to shape the future. Pragmatism shows us the way to do so.

    This is also why I value those who are "wintering in their wisdom." They have much to teach us about their past, to help us apply it to the present, so that we can collectively shape the future.

    As you share/imply, wintering into wisdom is anything but going gently into that good night, John. Thanks for reminding us.

  2. Dear Andrew:

    Thank you for your reply. You could and perhaps should be teaching philosophy yourself. I particularly liked your conclusion! I look forward to people like yourself joining me for future efforts to “collectively shape the future”.