WISDOM AND HUMAN MUTUALITY part 1 of 5

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

wisdom traditionThe previous two posts introduced the idea that paths of wisdom are paths of a special kind of peace called shalom. These paths have an (often overlooked) direction: social, political, and economic well-being, wholeness, flourishing. We also looked at shalom as what I call the wisdom norm of peaceableness, which should have particular appeal to those whose desires include working for the good of their communities amid its diversity. The next few posts will take this further by looking at the wisdom norm of human mutuality.

With the world today increasingly becoming pluralistically close-knit, it takes skill to be in each other’s space without getting in each other’s face. The agency of wisdom enables us to have that skill. But like all skills, it isn’t developed overnight. In my own personal formation in this area, far from complete, the wisdom tradition’s emphasis on shalom in the context of “human mutuality” has been a godsend in many ways, such as in helping me to shake off unpromising ways of thinking and replace them with a more wisdom-based worldview, and in discovering how to love my neighbor as myself.

What is human mutuality? I am grateful to John Peck, British philosopher and theologian, and a dear friend and mentor, who helped me to understand that the wisdom tradition directs our attention to the basic interests, concerns, and goals that are shared by the human family as a whole before distinctions are made about ethnicity, nationality, and religion or even about, as today we would put it, who is religious and who is “secular.” This points to what I call the wisdom norm of mutuality.

Since time immemorial every person on the planet has participated in the same creation, held in common that bond of being human, shared the same basic concerns and interests, and desired and worked toward their fulfilment. Even beyond the most essential needs – water, food, shelter – all peoples everywhere, in any time, have desired that their children are raised safely and educated, that their societies are ordered and lawful, that poverty and hunger should be overcome, that the suffering of others should be eased, that opportunities to increase their well-being should not be denied to them, that justice prevail, and so on. Such shared basic concerns and interests have inspired billions of us to agree that there is common good to work toward achieving. People everywhere and in any time are constituted that way, believers and atheists alike. That is human mutuality. And wisdom lives and moves and has its being in it.

Call it common ground or common good or, simply, the commons, as some do. The shared concerns of everyday life and the decisions people will make in and about them as they live and work together is a central interest of the wisdom tradition. Work and wealth, family and neighbors, relationships and communication, politics and government, diplomacy and negotiations, rulers and the administration of justice, business and finance, prosperity and suffering, sickness and health, happiness and grief, social life and the law, the rich and the poor, the single and the married, parents and children, earning a living – such are subjects the wisdom literature finds as its objects – the stuff of human mutuality.

The wisdom books of Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, and Job deal with it extensively, and a huge emphasis is placed on the kinds of decisions people make in and about such areas, across the spectrum of life, in their relationships with others, day in and day out. Today such interests are often bracketed as secular life – much to the distress of many Muslims and Christians. Nevertheless, according to the wisdom literature, people are known as being wise or foolish depending on the choices they make in these areas. (We’ll take this further in the next post.)

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