It's Not Enough to Carry Wisdom Under Your Wing

By: Glenda Lofton, Ph.D

Jan 7, 2020

As you have learned if you read my blogs on a regular basis, I love children’s books, particularly picture books with characters who come alive, few words and a lot of wisdom.  When I was a child, they were classified in the library under E for easy books, but over the years, I have decided that E stands for everybody. One of my favorites (I have lots of favorites) is Petunia, written and illustrated by Roger Duvoisin (1950).  I was first introduced to Petunia, that silly goose, by my brother’s first grade teacher, Pat Evans, when she made the popular children’s book into a play with a cast of first graders including my brother.  For some who are too young to remember, Pat Evans later became known for her popular children’s show called Romper Room which appeared on one of Baton Rouge’s local TV stations.                

When I became a teacher myself, I not only read the book to my second graders but joined with three other teachers and a cast of 120 second graders in putting on a play for the school, families and guests. We even wrote the author, and he wrote back, “I am happy that Petunia has behaved so well with you and I want to thank the children for their adorable letters.”  He died ten years later, but his wisdom lives on through Petunia and his books.                

Petunia’s story begins early one morning when Petunia, the silly goose, “went strolling…and discovered something she had never seen before in the meadow”--a Book.  She recalled hearing Mr. Pumpkin (the farmer) “telling his son, Bill, that Books are very precious. ‘He who owns Books and loves them is wise.’  She repeated the words to herself, and thought as hard and as long as she could. ‘Well, then,’ she said at last, ‘if I take this Book with me, and love it, I will be wise, too. And no one will call me a silly goose ever again...’ So Petunia picked up the Book, and off she went with it.  She slept with it, and swam with it.  And knowing that she was so wise, Petunia also became proud, and prouder, and prouder, so proud that her neck stretched out several notches.”  King, the rooster, was the first to notice the change in Petunia. “He said, ‘Maybe she is not so silly after all. She has a Book. And she looks so wise that she must be so.’ And the other animals began to believe in Petunia’s wisdom too.  They asked her for advice and opinions, and Petunia was glad to help—even when she was not asked…” Before long, as you might predict, “All the barnyard was in trouble, and all because of Petunia.”  When Petunia mistook a box of fireworks for candy, her friends all suffered and “Petunia’s pride and wisdom…exploded with the firecrackers… But suddenly Petunia spied the Book.  The firecrackers had blown it open…and she saw that there was something written inside…which she could not read. So she sat down and thought and thought and thought until at last she sighed, ‘Now I understand.  It was not enough to carry wisdom under my wing.  I must put it in my mind and in my heart.’ At once she began to work so that, one day, she could be truly wise. Then she would help make her friends happy.”                

The current economic crisis reminds us that wisdom is not always synonymous with job titles, college degrees, fame, prestige, wealth, outward appearance, or good intentions. An article by a former Wall Street Executive reinforces this when he writes, “To this day, the willingness of a Wall Street investment bank to pay me hundreds of thousands of dollars to dispense investment advice to grownups remains a mystery to me. I was 24 years old…Believe me when I tell you that I hadn’t the first clue.” He did grow in wisdom, however, because he left three years later thinking that “sooner or later, there would come a Great Reckoning when Wall Street would wake up and hundreds if not thousands of young people like me, who had no business making huge bets with other people’s money, would be expelled from finance”. (Lewis, 2008)                

Webster’s Dictionary implies the complexity of wisdom when it defines it as a combination of (a) accumulated learning: knowledge; (b) the ability to discern inner qualities and relationships: insight; and (c) good sense: judgment. The definition also refers to wisdom as “the teachings of ancient wise men” and that led me to another favorite book of mine, which also falls into the category of E books for everybody—the Bible, particularly the book of Proverbs. In Proverbs King Solomon, who pleased God by asking for wisdom rather than riches, passes on to his son (and us) words for “attaining wisdom and discipline” and for helping us do “what is right and just and fair”. (Prov. 1:2-3, NIV)  He begins with, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…” (Prov. 1:7)  Proverbs, many just two lines in length, are recorded in 31 chapters. It has been suggested that “Reading a chapter a day can keep foolishness away.”                

While the school where my grandchildren, Megan and Samuel, attend may not have introduced them to Petunia, I am grateful that their teachers have taught and modeled Biblical principles about wisdom. When problems or difficulties arise, students are asked to evaluate themselves, “Was your behavior wise or foolish?” One day when Samuel was quite small, his mom and dad found him crying, “What’s the matter?” they asked.  “I’m crying,” he said, “because Megan is always wise, and I am always foolish.”  “Not so foolish,” I thought. “He has learned as Petunia did that ‘knowing’ what you know and don’t know is the first step in ‘growing.’”  

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