Preface: Why This Collection Matters and How to Use It

“We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.” ― Umberto Eco

“The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.” — Isaac Asimov

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At Uplift, we believe that wisdom matters. That’s why we’re helping families explore the wisest selections from traditions around the world in this wisdom library.

Like any virtue, wisdom can be tricky to define because so many people disagree about what it means.

And yet, most people generally agree that wisdom entails:

  • Forethought: Choosing what brings joy even when it’s difficult
  • Perspective: Seeing multiple perspectives at once
  • Compassion: Caring for others
  • Humility: Recognizing that even the most strongly held assumptions can be wrong
  • Moderation: Following the middle way between extremes

Human beings have celebrated wisdom for thousands of years through mythology, scripture, fables, parables, history, poetry, and more.

This doesn’t mean that everything contained in these forms is wise. Far from it. But it does mean that each culture has gems of wisdom embedded throughout.

These gems of wisdom make up the wisdom traditions.

A wisdom tradition is not the same as a religious tradition. A religious tradition embraces rituals, texts, and doctrine that may or may not be wise. A wisdom tradition, by contrast, centers around a culture’s wisest gems within and beyond religion (again, including mythology, scripture, parables, etc.).

That’s what we mean when we talk about wisdom traditions. If a story or passage doesn’t embody forethought, perspective, compassion, humility, or moderation, we don’t include it. If it does, we do.

We believe that we each learn wisdom by aligning with our inner compass, practicing embodied experiences, and listening to wise stories — all of which are at the heart of this collection (and of Uplift generally).

Kids who learn to embody wisdom are better equipped to experience life-long joy.

That’s why this collection matters.

How to Use This Collection

The most important thing to remember is that this collection is here to help you and your kids find your inner wisdom. If a particular passage or question doesn’t resonate with you or your kids, you aren’t “doing it wrong.” You are learning what does and doesn’t work for you — and these insights are essential to your lifelong spiritual growth.

With that said, here are three ways to use this collection.

  1. Weekly sit-down. Read each weekly section straight through once a week and then use a few of the suggested questions and activities at the end if you find that they spark something useful for your family.
  2. Daily read-aloud. Read each daily section at breakfast, dinner, or just before bed. Engage with the questions and activities to the extent your kids are energized by them. (If your kids aren’t energized by the questions, no worries. Just enjoy the stories!)
  3. Personal devotional. Make these wisdom readings part of your personal journey, retelling sections as you see fit. We integrate these passages into the values lessons as well, so you can also encounter them there.

Again, we recommend whatever approach best helps you.

Questions and Answers

Does this collection teach religious literacy?
Yes! Since many cultural and religious traditions aren’t taught in schools or churches, it’s possible that this collection is the first time your kids will encounter some of these wisdom texts, including the Hindu Ramayana, the Taoist Tao Te Ching, or the Buddhist Dhammapada.

In addition, if you don’t attend church, this collection can serve as a way to give your kids basic religious literacy about Jewish and Christian traditions — an important component of being a cultured person.

We didn’t create this collection primarily to teach religious literacy, but it is a useful side benefit.

Is this just a bunch of encyclopedia entries?
No, this collection is not an encyclopedia. It is far less concerned with conveying a series of facts than it is about exploring wisdom. We include only what we consider the wisest passages from a variety of traditions and leave out all the rest.

Put another way, this project consists of devotional reading rather than informational reading.

Devotional reading:

Is meant to be read over and over, revealing new layers and insights

  • Opens readers to as many questions as answers
  • Leads us to live more aligned with our inner compass
  • In short, this project is meant to transform more than inform. It’s about experiencing wisdom at the deepest level.

How does this collection relate to spirituality?
As author and academic researcher Brené Brown says, spirituality is about “recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us.” Wisdom teaches this same principle: That we are all connected.

Lisa Miller, professor of psychology at Columbia University, builds on this concept. “Symbolism connects mind and heart,” she writes. “The symbolism of ritual and story allows the child to hold and understand her intuitive knowing, her heart knowing. Whether in nature-based myths like those from Native American or original Hawaiian cultures, biblical stories, or superhero characters, symbolism develops through a cognitive process in which we invest an image or an idea with meaning.”

Religious historian Karen Armstrong echoes these same ideas, writing, “The stories of gods or heroes descending into the underworld, threading through labyrinths and fight with monsters, brought to light the mysterious workings of the psyche, showing people how to cope with their own interior crises.”

Put simply, wisdom stories help us develop healthy spirituality.