“Does not wisdom cry out, and understanding lift up her voice? She takes her stand on the top of the high hill, beside the way, where the paths meet. She cries out by the gates, at the entry of the city, and at the entrance of the doors.” – Proverbs 8:1-3
On July 4th, millions of Americans commemorated the Platinum Anniversary (70-year) of the nation’s cause célèbre of UFO sightings. According to select eyewitnesses, on the evening of July 4th, 1947, dismembered alien bodies and fragments of a lightweight metallic spacecraft were discovered on a remote parcel of farmland near Roswell, New Mexico. While news stories were initially inconspicuous, numerous sensational versions of the incidence have been circulated since the enigmatic encounter. As a result, over 2 million Americans are now convinced that the wreckage at Area 51 was not a weather balloon, as government officials continue to insist, but physical confirmation of extraterrestrial life.
The gospel of Roswell is notable for conspiracy, fabrication, and apologue. Renowned for cataloging the world’s highest number of UFO reports, the New Mexico town unsurprisingly decided to promote its legacy of the infamous 1947 sighting by sponsoring a four-day Festival (www.ufofestivalroswell.com) featuring live entertainment, a car show, costume parade, alien exhibits, and scheduled workshops. A record number of UFO enthusiasts from around the world attended this year’s celebration, which according to the Journal of Business & Economics Research contributed nearly $2 million to the city’s treasury.
Billed as “The UFO Event of the Century,” a highlight of the commemorative fête was a lecture by Dr. Michael Heiser that examined the enigmatic theory of Zecharia Sitchin (1920 –2010), a Russian-American author who proposed that the human race originated from extraterrestrials from a planet beyond Neptune called Nibiru. Remarkably, Sitchin’s eccentric books have enjoyed global influence, translated into 25 languages, and selling millions of copies!
Apart from noted ufologists, impassioned messages from several eyewitnesses provided additional credence to Roswell’s platinum celebration. According to MUFON, the world’s oldest and largest UFO investigative body, the potency of Roswell’s legacy was reinforced by the deathbed confession of a 90-year old Army veteran who emerged to give voice to the alleged “truth” of Area 51. In claims that have largely been dismissed by all but the most dedicated believers, the now deceased military officer was a member of the US Air Defense Unit that actually saw, and can, thereby confirm, the existence of the crashed flying saucer and alien remains.
Like Roswell’s nonagenarian Army veteran, aging Americans are increasingly concerned about the significance of their respective legacies. How will their life be characterized? Did it have meaning? Will their legacy be authentic or, like Roswell, notable for fabrication and apologue? How will family, friends, and colleagues remember them? In the end, as people mature, they are concerned with the ability of creating a lasting legacy of wisdom.
The Center on Wealth and Philanthropy of Boston College reports that during the next several decades, between $25-41 trillion will be passed from one generation to the next. As $7.2 trillion of the estimated computation will be going directly to Baby Boomers the financial relocation will become the largest intergenerational wealth transfer in the nation’s history. In order to prepare for the extraordinary allocation, Age Wave, the nation’s foremost thought leader on issues relating to aging, collaborated with the Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America, and Harris Interactive to conduct the Allianz American Legacies Study.
Considered the nation’s most comprehensive study on issues pertaining to intergenerational wealth transfer, the Legacies Study revealed that an effective legacy includes four pillars: (a) values and life lessons, (b) personal possessions of emotional value, (c) wishes and directions to be fulfilled, and (d) financial assets/real estate. Based on interviews with 1,282 Baby Boomers (40-59 age), and 1,345 elders (65 and over), the Study also found that financial assets are not the most important of the four pillars. In fact, nonfinancial leave-behinds—like ethics, morality, faith, and religion—are 10 times more important to both boomers and elder parents than financial aspects. The Study concluded that a positive legacy is more important than an inheritance of money. According to a majority of respondents the most treasured gift that progeny could receive was the legacy example of their parent’s values and wisdom.
According to Ken Dychtwald, president of Age Wave and lead investigator of the Legacies Study, “while money, wealth and property are important matters . . . our research finding indicates that they don’t matter nearly as much as values and life lessons.” Seventy-seven percent (77%) of both Boomers and Elders selected values and life lessons as the “most important” aspect of a legacy. While 39 percent of the Elder Generation said it is very important to pass financial assets or real estate to their children, only 10 percent of Baby Boomers felt the same way.
Like Dychtwald, Mark Zesbaugh, CEO of Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America and the Study’s co-researcher, differentiates legacy from inheritance. According to Zesbaugh unlike a bequest, “a legacy captures all facets of an individual’s life, including their family traditions and history, life stories, values and wishes. While Inheritance is about death,” Zesbaugh insists, “legacy is about life . . . it is about the memories, lessons and values you teach your children over a lifetime.” While earnings frequently define the measure of inheritance, the 2005 Allianz American Legacies Study concluded that true legacies emphasize the priceless estimate of maturity.
In his book, The Mature Mind, (2005), Gene Cohen, the founder of the Center on Aging at the National Institute of Mental Health and a pioneer in the field of geriatric psychiatry, describes maturity as “the synergy of cognition, emotional intelligence, judgment, social skills, life experience, and consciousness.” Expanding on the respected work of Erik Erikson, the esteemed German-born psychologist, Cohen postulates that there are four phases in the development of maturity:
- Midlife Re-Evaluation (mid-thirties to mid-sixties),
- Liberation (mid-fifties to mid-seventies),
- Summing-Up (late sixties through eighties), and
- Encore (late seventies onwards).
According to Cohen, Midlife Re-Evaluation is “a time of exploration and transition.” While Liberation is the phase wherein people entertain “the desire to experiment,” the Summing-Up stage of maturity includes “recapitulation, resolution, and review” of life’s experiences. Encore is the fourth and final stage of Cohen’s life-span theory, described as a time when “major life themes are re-stated and re-affirmed.” Referring to the French language connotation of the word, the Encore phase is characterized by the “desire to go on,” and to “remain vital.” Drawing on the results of two groundbreaking studies, Cohen’s developmental stages illustrate that the maturing years are valuable opportunities for the expression of creativity, service, increased social engagement, and wisdom.
A healthy culture should support an environment wherein its citizens can foster their respective legacies by safely pursuing each of Cohen’s maturation stages. Apart from providing opportunities for finance-based estate planning, such an urbane civilization would also encourage its elders to cultivate, and subsequently utilize the wisdom of their respective life experiences to review, reaffirm, and evaluate the credulity of societal truth-claims. Ironically, although research polling indicates a significant rise in the nation’s certainty concerning UFO legacies, data has simultaneously exposed an alarming decrease in societal confidence in wisdom and long-held cultural norms.
According to national studies conducted by Gallup and Ipsos/McClatchy, a majority (52%) of Americans believe in the existence of unidentified flying objects (UFOs). Forty-five percent are convinced that space aliens have actually visited Earth. A CNN/Time poll collaborates the previous findings and indicates that 80% of Americans think the government is hiding knowledge of the existence of extraterrestrial life forms. While 50% believe that humans have been abducted, 37% of respondents are convinced that aliens have contacted the U.S. government.
What animates humanity’s fascination with “fake news,” UFO legacies, and other unverifiable stories? Even after the 1997 release of a 231-page internal government investigation called “The Roswell Report: Case Closed,” the Roswell legacy continues to employ eccentric narratives of secrecy and conspiracy to draw additional adherents. Coupled with the global deficit of wisdom legacy leaders, such confidences may perhaps be fueled by a “secular gospel” whose anti-authoritarian characteristics stimulate modernity’s current skepticism in truth, tradition, and absolutes.
Prior to the resilience of anti-authoritarian secularism, Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung ascribed the lure of UFOs to a deep psychological need of the human psyche. In Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky (1959), Jung postulated that anyone who claimed to have seen a UFO was a victim of “projection-creation fantasy,” the strong need to feel that the fate of the entire human race is in the hands of gods from other planets. Jung believed that this “fantasy” was directly correlated to political unrest and the lack of courageous global leadership that existed at the time. He concluded that the UFO phenomenon was “a modern myth” wherein humanity’s psyche projected its collective fears on the hope of “extraterrestrials coming to the rescue.”
Whatever theory is propagated, contemporary society is replete with charismatic personalities that claim to have the answers to humanity’s pathologies and ontological queries. Downtown Roswell gift shops, for example, advertise alien shot glasses, magnets, and tee shirts that assert, “The Truth is Out There,” and “I Want to Believe!” Irrespective of multigenarian eyewitnesses that allege that the “truth” has been covered up amid fears it would damage religion, cripple global finances, and/or threaten the national security, the legacy of Area 51 does NOT include being the cradle of human wisdom. On the contrary, unlike Roswell’s Gnostic enigma, Wisdom’s Voice is not suppressed, concealed, and/or synthesized at secret locations, but as the Book of Proverbs insists, heard “crying from the hill tops, crossroads, and noticeable places of society” (Proverbs 8:2-3).
The 2017 platinum commemoration of the nation’s most celebrated UFO sighting provides an opportunity for legacy seeking individuals to re-examine the veracity of their respective foundational values. Are our lives firmly planted on the solid soil of wisdom or on the ever-shifting sands of conspiracy and anti-authoritarian apologue? As truth is of little use without its implications being expressed by a confident voice of wisdom, Roswell’s commemorative tribute provides a valuable occasion for all adults. in general, and leaders, in particular, to assess the strength and veracity of their respective core values. Such an analysis might first start by examining the source, nature, and purpose of wisdom.
Misgivings concerning the source of wisdom is nothing new. Holy Scripture itself is inaugurated by the story of humanity’s quest for the ability of differentiating good from evil. Unfortunately, as a result of our progenitors’ untimely consumption of “fruit” that was alleged “desirable for gaining wisdom,” humanity was disfigured and our ability to distinguish wisdom from folly severely debilitated (Genesis 3:1-6). Much of the Bible’s subsequent narratives, including Adam and Eve’s foolish choice of fig-covered couture, chronicle the entangled legacies of individuals engaged in this reoccurring ontological pursuit.
Wisdom is a complex phenomenon. According to the German psychologist Paul Baltes, a leader in the scientific study of wisdom and credited with developing the lifespan theory of human ontogenesis, wisdom is “a state of knowledge about the human condition, about how it comes about, which factors shape it, how one deals with difficult problems, and how one organizes one’s life in such a manner that when we are old, we judge it to be meaningful.” Regarded as one of four cardinal virtues, wisdom is, therefore, the dispositional ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, and common sense. Coupled with discernment, sagacity, and insight, wisdom is often categorized according to four perspectives: (a) personality, (b) human development, (c) cognitive capacity, and (d) reflective praxis. Spirituality is, additionally, a fifth perspective that contends that wisdom must also include transcendent insights concerning the source and nature of truth.
Maturing individuals who are interested in crafting a legacy of wisdom would be well served to refine the dexterities of each of the aforementioned five perspectives. Personality characteristics include openness, creativity, ability to entertain discordant opinions and novel approaches, possession of in-depth self-knowledge, and ability to nurture and maintain compassionate relationships with others. As the apex of human development, wisdom is also a capacity that leaders can use to assess traditional understanding, expectations, and habits, thereby, viewing human nature and societal problems with increased awareness and creativity.
Wisdom is a lifelong process that requires cognitive as well as spiritual intentional effort for a healthful ethical life-style to emerge. Cognizant that spirituality is also a valuable characteristic of human maturity, history has frequently identified the wisest and most judicious leaders as those individuals that exemplified the capacity to humbly interact with uncertainties by drawing upon a rich tapestry of transcendent truths and ancient principles.
According to a scriptural claim, King Solomon was the most prudent leader to have ever lived (1 Kings 4:29-34). While Jewish tradition attributes the Old Testament books of Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, and Song of Songs to the sage King’s legacy, most scholars believe that they are the creation of multiple scriptural compilers. In the Book of Proverbs, readers are introduced to the most salient values, insights, and lessons of Solomon’s 80-year lifespan. In addition to compiling an anthology of the King’s wisdom to give “prudence to the simple, and knowledge and discretion to the young,” the compiler of the Book states that Solomon’s legacy also includes his desire “to make the wise even wiser” (Proverbs 1:4-5).
Throughout the entire Book of Proverbs, Solomon advocates reliance on God as “the proto-genesis of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). As the Voice of God’s Wisdom is, therefore, a leader’s primary counselor to success, security, and significance, it should be reverentially approached and obeyed. According to Solomon, “Wisdom calls loudly,” and “raises her voice in the open squares” (Proverbs 1:20). The Voice of Wisdom sounds from the hilltop like a watchman’s warning. It rings from the junctions of society’s roads and invites the domains of culture, commerce, and church to shape community life according to its eternal ideals. Unfortunately, while more and more individuals fall captive to the lure of “post truths” and extraterrestrial myths, the volume and appeal of the once emphatic Voice of Wisdom is gradually wilting. Consequently, while “the wise will receive an inheritance of honor,” Solomon warns that those who foolishly ignore Wisdom’s invitation “will inherit disgrace” (Proverbs 3:35).
Rather than commemorate the legacy of unverifiable truth, which, by way of stark contrast, is personified and characterized by the writer of Proverbs as the alluring voice of a “destructive” and “adulterous temptress lurking in the streets” (Proverbs 5:3; 8:14), society would be better served by focusing its attention on the Voice of Divine Wisdom (Sophia). According to Solomon, Divine Wisdom is the “virtuous” daughter of Heaven that insists that her gifts are more preferable to material wealth (Proverbs 31:10-31). Her value exceeds affluence. “Take my instruction,” Wisdom insists, “and not silver and the choicest gold.” Wisdom insists that She is “better than jewels . . . and no desirable things can compare with her” (Proverbs 8:11-12).
Ray Bradbury (1920-2012), American author and screenwriter of dystopian science fiction narratives such as The Martian Chronicles (1950), Fahrenheit 451 (1953), and It Came from Outer Space (1953) had much to say concerning the importance of leaving a lasting legacy. According to Bradbury “it doesn’t matter what you do in life, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener,” Bradbury insisted, “is in the touching. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”
The pursuit of “gardening” a legacy has become a driving cultural obsession. Lasting legacies of wisdom, however, are not established through clever legalese, memoirs, and the dissemination of enigmatic chronicles but, rather, humbly cultivated by the sustained rhythm of an individual’s lifetime witness of values and passion. Unfortunately, all too often, legacy seekers are engaged in methodologies that are overly focused on wealth and estate management strategies. As a legacy of wisdom is more valuable than an inheritance of wealth, it would also be advantageous to likewise identify tactics that would afford individuals to pass on their values, insights, and life-story wisdom to those thy love.
Part II of this commentary will suggest a comprehensive estate planning methodology that may be used to bestow a legacy of wisdom as well as facilitate the appropriate transfer of wealth.