Emergency Wisdom

04/12/2015 01:25 pm ET | Updated Jun 12, 2015
John Roman via Getty Images

A car in front of me on a major street today caught my attention. It was a white Ford Explorer tricked out with orange stripes like an emergency vehicle. And it also had round reflectors built into the tail gate. Or were they flashing lights? Above the license plate, there was a very official looking sign, where EMT or POLICE might otherwise be. It said CHAPLAIN.

I couldn't help but be jealous. If I could just have one like that but with the sign instead saying PHILOSOPHER. Can you imagine? I sure could. I'd be driving down the road and the radio would squawk. "Logic Emergency on Front Street. All Philosophers Respond." I'd hit the lights, and of course the siren, and the gas. Out of the way, everybody. Sage coming through. I'd screech up to the address and dash out of the car. City police would be holding the door open for me. I'd run up the stairs two at a time, and there it would be: a guy splayed out across his desk, with his computer flashing some sort of error message. A detective would be standing there, and he'd look up at me and say, "It's a conceptual catastrophe."

I'd say, "What have we got?"

The gumshoe would reply. "I think we need some Aristotle."

I'd look more closely and say, "No! It's too late for that! Only Kierkegaard will do!" And, with a Leap of Faith, I'd use just the right aphorism and summon the guy back to life, and conceptual clarity. A gasp would go through the room, and I'd suddenly notice all the other people huddled over at the side. They'd start cheering and clapping. Someone would run up to me and gush appreciation and words of praise for what I had just accomplished.

"No Ma'am. No need to thank me. Just another day for a hard working philosopher."

As I came out of my stoplight reverie, I realized why things don't work like this. Oddly, most people go in search of wisdom only when they confront a catastrophe, or disaster that has arisen from unwise decisions. Wanting to avoid the flames of irrational self immolation, they desperately look for insight. And they might find a piece of wisdom here or there that can save them. But philosophy is much better as a powerful preventative medicine than as last minute emergency treatment. It's better applied in small doses throughout our days and decisions. Then, we can most likely avoid cataclysmic personal disasters, at least of the existential sort.

So: Don't wait for trouble. Seek wisdom now. Remember, I don't really have the flashing lights and siren. It was just in my imagination. Then again, if things get bad enough, at least chaplain apparently does.