Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Lady Wisdom

Often, in the evenings, I unwind with a classic sitcom episode or two. It brings me joy, calms me down, allows me to laugh and smile even on hard days, and comforts me in something familiar and warm. Usually, I watch The Golden Girls, but I’ll sometimes switch off to The Golden Palace or Designing Women. In the former, in particular, I’m reminded of my grandmothers—in Blanche’s southern accent, style, and wit and in Rose’s Nordic charm, innocence, and references—and I love them for it. I find great comfort in the humor and power of women ensemble casts from the 1980s and early 1990s, the topics they tackle—some quite ahead of their time—and the impact they had in pushing our societies forward and opening so many eyes to important issues, not the least of which being sexism with Dorothy and Julia taking the lead on putting various and sundry creeps in their places through mic-drop monologues.

In my last post, “Proverbial Wisdom,” and one a week or two ago, “Sparrows,” as well as my January post, “Good Neighborliness,” I’ve done some thinking about ancient writings and how valuable they can be in modern society, but also about the all-important grains of salt one must sprinkle in considering the context of the wisdom of the ancients, especially when it comes to gender references. As much as I want to believe we live in a gender-neutral and gender-inclusive 21st century American society, the reality is that we still—after so much work has been done by real-life Dorothies and Julias—have a whole lot more work to do.

I’ve always tried to change pronouns when quoting ancient writings, when appropriate. In old quotes that say something like “A man’s blah blah blah is measured by his blah blah blah,” I’ll change it to “A person’s blah blah blah is measured by their blah blah blah.” At least, I try to do this, both in writing and in speaking. Why? Because those quotes most of the time are speaking generally and, while the masculine pronoun was used because that’s how most writing was done back then, it’s likely not specifically meant to refer just to men. And when we train our brains to do that inclusive pronoun switch when we read ancient writings, it really can do wonders to help our little pea brains understand that this world was not intended to be men-centric. It’s just that the ancients wrote that way, because that was the way writing was done thousands of years ago in extremely patriarchal societies; that was almost always the examples shown to the writers, so that’s the example they in turn followed when using primarily men in stories, in scenarios, and in defaulting to the masculine pronoun in allegory. I do this pronoun-shifting and gender-mindfulness stuff all the time, refusing to say things like “mankind” and instead saying “humanity” and shying away from things like “brethren” and “brotherhood” in favor of more appropriate terms like “group” or “community.” It’s important to me.

I am so grateful to have come from a long line of incredibly strong, wise, formidable, stubborn women—feminists in their own rights, even if some didn’t use the term. And I’m so grateful that I also come from a long line of incredible strong, wise, formidable, stubborn men who have supported and trusted the women in their lives to lead, guide, and inspire them—also feminists, among which I count myself included. 

One of my great-grandmothers immigrated from Norway and homesteaded over the harsh North Dakota winters alone, building her own house and staking out her land, to create a farm enterprise that has been passed down through generations of often-women-led farming families. Another great-grandmother was the first female sheriff of Dallas County, Texas, back in the 1920s while being a newly single mother of nine (some of her kids were grown at the time she became the sheriff, but not all). Now, in sharing this, I must acknowledge the fact that native people were terribly affected by the Homestead Act that granted my North Dakota great-grandmother her land, as well as the fact that my Texas great-grandmother was from a privileged White family in 1920s and therefore as Sheriff may not have always been equitable to all people. I don’t know that as fact, but am just making an educated assumption as, in a post that deals with the theme of equity, I feel it’s important to acknowledge. I do believe both great-grandmothers, in addition to being total bosses, were both good humans and did their best with what they knew in the societies they were in and with the power and opportunities that they had; I never got to meet either of them.

I had two great-aunts whom I did know who gave up traditional careers to become homeless, itinerant, volunteer ministers and who spent years in the northern parts of Norway, sometimes traveling with all of their possessions on kick sleds, trudging through immense snow and to places above the Arctic circle simply to proclaim God’s love to the people there, to hold public meetings where they shared the gospel story, and to help communities as best they could. They were soldiers. They were strong. They were so inspiring. They were so loving, giving, caring, funny, and selfless. They were my “tantes” (Norwegian for “aunts”) and they loved me and my siblings and cousins more than life itself.

My mom, in addition to being the world’s greatest mother (seriously, we have the mug to prove it) to my siblings and me and always being there for us as a parent and leader in our schools, a guide and sage advisor, a five-star chef and impeccable host, and the most talented seamster I’ve ever seen, was a very successful small business owner and community leader, guiding a staff of 30-plus at times with a three-location chain of shipping stores in the 1990s and 2000s. Mom was also an industry leader, known across the country as a lead national trainer and developer of many innovated packaging techniques; to this day many people in the shipping business call a certain style of frame packing a "Cindy Sandwich.”

My sister has rocketed through the ranks in the construction industry, in charge of offices and teams and crews full of men in the traditionally male-centric field, and has even started a very important women in construction initiative with her company and peers to drive not only more visibility and inclusion, but also safer working environments and protective gear that previously weren’t available to women. Both my mother and my sister are absolute superstars and I am so, so proud of them, inspired by them, and grateful for the leadership and influence and guidance they both give me daily.

And my dad, well he’s completely amazing as well. Not only is he the most non-chauvinistic person I know, but he also is a quiet, kind, humble, strong, and giving leader who has always been my mom’s best friend and partner in business, parenting, home life, shopping, cleaning, cooking, faith, and marriage for nearly 55 years now. I remember once, in my early twenties while living in Texas, I was talking to someone who was about my age and was asking me cordial, getting-to-know-you questions, when he innocently and simply said, “What does your daddy do?” Taken aback and trying not to laugh because he said “daddy,” I just replied, “My dad works for my mom.” While technically true, as Mom was the majority shareholder in their joint endeavor as business partners, I phrased it that way to make a pointed point that I didn’t come from a family where traditional roles were touted or that a man’s job defined the family. I was never taught that gender matters in a person’s ability to lead, do, say, or be…because it absolutely doesn’t; what does, I’ve learned, make a difference in a person’s ability to lead, do, say, or be is control asserted over them by those who don’t like the concept of equality.

I’m a person of faith and try to keep it in check as much as I can—to be informed from the source and not from the huge array of contradictory interpretations that so often completely misrepresent faith in general. One study Bible I have is the NKJV version of The Chronological Study Bible by Thomas Nelson, Inc. (ISBN 9780718020682 for anyone interested in getting their own copy). It’s awesome and I highly recommend it, as the context it gives for societies and mindsets at the time, timelines, introductions, and overarching world views is very helpful in trying to understand many of the things that so many who tout harmful ideologies, as I tried to dig into in “Good-Neighborliness,” often misquote completely out of context and completely ignoring the writing style, audience, trends, customs, modesty standards, ingrained gender roles, marriage practices, views on sexuality, and societal norms and mores of the period in which it was originally written. I’m in the Book of Proverbs now and the little tidbits it pairs with the text have been what’s inspired some of my little “Sparrows” and “Proverbial Wisdom” thoughts. This morning, I came across a bit called “The Person of Lady Wisdom” that caught my eye and really helped me understand more about the context of Proverbs.

Throughout Proverbs, “wisdom” is often referred to with a feminine pronoun. In reading it, I was doing my signature in-head pronoun shifting to change “she” to “they” and “her” to “their” and so on, just as I do when much more often I have to change “him” to “they” and “his” to “their,” but then the bit about Lady Wisdom stopped me. It explained that the Hebrew Bible sometimes represents God’s wisdom as a person, the feminine figure of wisdom, who “seeks out persons both wise and foolish to teach them. The ways of God are not hidden, neither are the ways which lead to a good human life. Anyone who wishes to succeed is welcomed to learn this way of life. For wisdom, it is asserted, leads to a good life, while foolishness leads to death.”

So, I’ve been thinking about wisdom and all of the incredibly wise, impactful women in my life. Wisdom, especially as explained by example upon example in the Book of Proverbs, is the most important characteristic that we, as humans trying to be good humans and live good lives, can have. Wisdom is discernment. Wisdom is watching our actions and, just as important, watching our reactions. Wisdom is putting up with garbage thrown at us by other people, then knowing when to fight and knowing what battles we need to lay aside to save our strength for something that really matters. Wisdom is choosing kindness when faced with absurdity. Wisdom is knowing the value of relationships over transactions. Wisdom is caring for others more than for ourselves. Wisdom is, in general, seeing the big picture above the little traps that would engulf us if we weren’t set firmly on a goal. Wisdom is strength. Wisdom is grace. Wisdom is fortitude. Wisdom is feminine.

I’ve been reading Amy Poehler’s book, Yes Please. It’s awesome. I love Amy so much and have eaten up much of her work from her Saturday Night Live days to Parks and Recreation and beyond. In Yes Please, she has a chapter called “Treat Your Career Like a Bad Boyfriend” in which she talks about the importance of ambivalence—how essential it is to keep our own sanity by choosing what to care about and what not to care about. I learned a lot of good lessons from this chapter, as well as so many others so far in her book that I’m currently halfway through…and recommend it very highly.

One of my dearest friends recently had a double mastectomy and, just yesterday, had a port placed in her chest and neck in preparation for chemo and radiation treatments that are around the corner for the metastatic breast cancer she’s currently in the middle of butt-kicking. She and I are the same age and, because I went through chemo 11 years ago for lymphoma, myself bearing port scars as a badge of honor, we’ve been having a lot of good chats lately. She is one of the strongest people I know—a single mother of two amazing, strong, super smart girls, raised by an amazing, strong, and super smart single mother with two amazing, strong, super smart sisters. She has the best support team available and I’m honored that she’s reached out to me to be part of it. She’s not been public with her diagnosis, which I absolutely respect, so I won’t share more about her story here. But, I do want to share how much she inspires me; I want to express how much her strength means to me.

Folks, we have no idea what most people are going through, and those of us who identify as men have no clue what most women endure, have endured, and will endure. And not just cis-women, but all the more endurance is required for trans-women. There’s an absolute reason that wisdom, as touted by the ancients and as we still need so much of today, is a feminine characteristic.

So, with all of these thoughts recently, I’ve been trying to reconcile my mission to be gender-neutral and gender-inclusive in my writing and speaking. And I need to acknowledge that, as so often is the case, in my well-intendedness, I was wrong. Just like how we know that colorblindness, while often well-intended, dismisses the fact that people of color have a story, a history, a context, and a set of obstacles in a system and society and culture that they must endure, we also must be aware of the inequity of genderblindness for the same reasons. I think the difference between being genderblind and gender-inclusive or gender-neutral is a fine line—like the difference between being a schlemiel and a schlimazel—but yet it’s a very important difference. So, while I still want to speak in neutrality to be inclusive and not alienate anyone, I also want to be more aware of the entire situation, context, and systems so that I can not only appreciate more, but also support more and acknowledge more, what women endure and have endured. And hopefully change something in my own little capacity, for positive change always starts with the individual.

I’ll end what seems to have turned into a three-part February wisdom essay series with two bits of modern-day wisdom that I’ve recently gleaned. One was shared by a friend online and it said, “Don’t let the negativity of others derail you.” I’ve come back to this again and again, as there is so much negativity and outright hate flying around in nearly every realm lately. It’s so disheartening and dwelling on it can really bring a person down. The only way to get through is to tune it out and to not let yourself get sucked into to the negative bandwagon, whining, name-calling, self-righteous fighting, and so much more that seems to have taken over so many hearts. It’s scary and so easy to fall down that slippery cliff if we’re not extra careful to keep positivity at the forefront.

The other bit of modern-day wisdom I’ve really enjoyed lately was shared by The Happy Givers on Instagram and it said, “If you are using the Bible to argue for oppression, exclusion, or violence, then you have misunderstood both the story and the storyteller.” To that, I say “amen,” “amen,” and “amen.” It breaks my heart to see so much evil and harm that’s said and done in the name of religion and faith. God is a god of love, mercy, forgiveness, and acceptance. Don’t let any blowhard politician or mega-preacher sowing seeds of fear, dissent, distrust, contention, and division tell you differently.

I’m so grateful for wise people around me. In looking into this more, I realize how far I have to go to be considered wise myself, but I do want to learn more about it. I still have some ignorance ingrained in me where I’ve taken things out of context or in a way it was never intended to be taken. But, little by little, if we all do our best to let our hearts be our guides, think of every human as equal and loved and valued in God’s sight, and understand both the storyteller’s intentions and the spirit’s guidance, we can make this world a better place. Maybe we can all make choices to let our lives be directed and controlled by the wisest voices possible.

The only way we are going to affect change, as I’ve said in many missives lately, is to change our own mindsets, language, actions, and the individuals to whom we give power in our own lives. Turn off the negative voices and focus on the positive ones. Let Lady Wisdom run the show, because we all—and our societies—need a whole lot more of what she’s got.

With that, I'm off to listen to two women preach tonight—itinerant, volunteer ministers in same way my tantes were—at a public meeting they're holding at a fire hall here in our community. I guarantee we'll learn about love, love, and love…and the absolute essentiality of having wisdom in our daily lives to help us be the best humans we can be and make the world a better place.

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