Through Stained Glass: 7 tips for living the good life

It’s the last Through Stained Glass of the academic year, and although I generally don’t go in for the trendy and the popular, perhaps this time I will indulge myself.

We all know the popularity of lists that make their appearances as Letterman’s Top Ten, or on Buzzfeed. I want to reflect on learning, wisdom and offer seven pieces of advice particularly for graduating students, but which I think is also suitable for anyone.

In this internet information age, but I wonder if there is any knowledge, or even more importantly, wisdom.   As one cultural analyst suggests, we may actually be living in the age of missing information.  With all we know, what do we know about discernment, about choices and values and priorities and being human in an often inhuman world? What do we do with the facts we read, the information we take out of the classroom, the knowledge we acquire with our degrees? Do we really have wisdom and what makes wisdom in the face of mere facts? I think in our modern world, wisdom is often confused with information, with facts. And of course the danger is that in pursuing a mechanistic view of the world rooted solely in facts, we lose a sense of meaning; in asking how, we forget to ask why.

So for the end of the year, as we prepare to settle in Sackville for the summer, or head home for work, travel, or intern, and especially those graduating and seeking full-time work or preparing for graduate school, let me get in on the list trend and offer a list of seven tips.

One:   Choose less over more.  Just as wisdom is not about knowing more, so richness the fullness of life is not about having more, but about living in harmony with the environment, with the peoples of the world, and responding to the needs around us, in learning to be sustainable not only for ourselves but for our communities.

Two: Choose loving action over selfish inaction.  It is easy to do nothing and to say “it does not affect me.”  But we are citizens of the world, and we need to participate in the world.  We need to choose to act, to take responsibility for the improvement of our world, even if just at our local level.

Three: Choose kindness over arrogance.  Choose to be a servant to others rather than to hold power over others.  Seek to make a difference by recognizing that we can respond to those in need, to be the voice of the voiceless, to look out for others before we start focusing on ourselves.

Four: Choose community over individualism.  No one is an island, John Donne reminds us, and despite the overuse of the poem, it holds a truth we need.  It is a reminder to seek the shared life, to cultivate relationships, to cooperate. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes people working together to care for the world. We all want to make a difference in the world and we can.

Five: Choose to listen as well as to speak. We can only truly communicate when we listen as well as speak.

Six: Choose to live with a sense of purpose before pleasure. To do this is to have a sense of vocation, to live a life that integrates faith with living and learning.

Seven: Choose to embrace life’s limits, in order to live well within them and to die well at the end of them. To embrace life in its finitude opens the possibility of being humbled by life, and coming to the end of our days with few or no regrets, knowing we have done our part, we have made a difference, and we can depart in peace.

Walter Rauschenbusch, the champion of the social gospel in the early part of the twentieth century, claimed that the salvation of the world lay less in the ministrations of the church and the professional ministry than in the bearing of good news in action in ordinary life by those whose lives have been changed by it. His plea was to wise living, discerning living, living that makes a difference.  I hope my seven tips for the good life direct us in these ways.

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