Wisdom is found in the most unlikely of places. I may not be old, but I have learned from life experiences that wisdom truly is often, but not always, the opposite of one’s inclination to believe.
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I have learned that the meaning of life is found in the finite, not eternal. I have learned that the embrace of failure and misunderstanding is the greatest means to succeed and to be correct. Wisdom is an endless journey, and while this is a lesson I learned as a child, I never stop relearning it, like the path to wisdom itself.
One of the many forms of wisdom is the understanding that even if you are correct, objectively and absolutely, despite it being impossible to ever know if you are, you can still learn more. Being correct does not mean you have seen the entire picture. You can see the pond in the painting, but do you see the wolves hidden in the trees?
I had an epiphany recently; one that proves you can gain wisdom in the most unlikely of places, and from the things you care for the least. The epiphany I had came from the subject of … tipping at restaurants.
As a child, I was told that when the food is good, you leave a tip. It’s what we do in America, though the rest of the world finds this a strange custom. I accepted this, as a child. Reaching my teenage years, finally devoting some thought to the subject, I realized that tipping is nonsensical. Tipping is free money. Why give free money when you already paid the price of the food? Why would the food be priced at all, or priced at what it is, if tipping was necessary?
I fell deeper down the rabbit hole after being a little educated on the subject. I learned that waiters are paid a minimal wage. Not minimum wage, specifically, but a minimal wage, which is sometimes lower than their state’s legal minimum wage. Tips are meant to cover the portion of their wage that gives them incentive to work that job in the first place. I also learned that, statistically, people tip out of a feeling of obligation, not because they thought their waiter was phenomenal, and also that good service normally doesn’t result in a greater tip anyway. There is also the logic that serving food at a restaurant is by far not the most physically/mentally demanding job out there – not even in the service industry – and yet waiters at restaurants are tipped most often.
For years, I have refused to tip because I’ve truly felt it’s the right thing to do. Nothing against waiters, but rather against restaurant owners/operators. If people tipped less, people would be less inclined to become waiters and thus force restaurant owners to do the right thing and pay a decent, competitive wage in the first place. Employees shouldn’t be held for ransom, and customers shouldn’t be guilted into doing something owners and managers should be doing themselves.
For years, this is how I thought and felt about the subject.
Recently, I had my aforementioned epiphany. I realized that tipping might, just might, keep prices low in an industry that generally doesn’t generate a lot of profit. Few people know this, but any business practice that involves food, from restaurants to grocery stores, are not very profitable. Basically, if you want to make money by starting a business, don’t have your main product be food. Does that justify restaurants making it incumbent on customers to make sure employees are paid adequately? No, I still don’t think so, but this fact is something to consider. If I’ve been right about tipping, which I may or may not have been, that doesn’t mean there is nothing more to understand. Restaurant food is already pricy. Rich or poor, people don’t want to pay for a night out if it’s substantially cheaper to buy and make the food themselves, which it already is.
So, should I abandon my long-held view on tipping? Maybe …, or maybe there’s even more to understand still. Perhaps restaurants should be highly expensive, but also scarcer, so that people reserve them for only the most special of occasions, not merely for a guy to score points with a girl or if a family is too lazy to make food at home.
I have similar views on the diamond industry, mainly concerning wedding rings. Anyone who’s tried selling a diamond in any shape or form, which I have, quickly learns the mineral is next to worthless. I once bought a wedding ring for $1,350, but when the engagement was called off, I sold it. I received a total of $75 in return. This was after visiting multiple pawn shops and the very place I bought the ring from. They all admitted the same thing: it’s not truly worth $1,350; not even close.
It’s easy to conclude the diamond wedding ring industry is a scam, which it is, but perhaps maybe there’s still more to understand in addition to this truth. Don’t stop there. Perhaps it’s true that women still want this worthless mineral on their finger to symbolize their wedding vows. In addition to this possibility as well, perhaps it would be better, both aesthetically and financially, to seek alternates to diamonds. On and on it goes.
My point is, finding an answer or explanation that satisfies you shouldn’t stop you from investigating further or pondering deeper. Understanding that restaurants have a moral obligation to pay their employees more, and understanding that diamond wedding rings are a giant scam industry, turns out to be true and not the end of the story.
Take religion as another, and final, example. This, too, I’ve had an epiphany about somewhere around a year ago. I’ve been an atheist since the age of 18, and for a long time, I believed the world would be better without any religion. I still hold this view, but there was still more to understand. Despite the fact I still believe the world would be better without religion, I have stopped wishing for it. How does that make sense? I’ll explain.
Society has been seeing the effects of diminished religion. What’s been the result? People never truly abandon it, they only replace it. You can see the detrimental result of widespread secularism with the rise of progressivism. The sin of being conservative, the sin of being against socialism, the sin of being rich, the original sin of being male, the original sin of being born white… When people don’t serve a god, it doesn’t stop them from trying to shove ideology down throats. It doesn’t stop people from seeing themselves as arbiters of truth and justice. It doesn’t stop people from believing they are right and that they cannot be wrong because what they believe is the highest morality.
In hindsight, I should have already known what happens when you eradicate religion, because history already has a prime example of that. Several examples, wrapped in one. That is: communism. Look at the Soviet Union, or North Korea, or China. When religion is gone, people still worship. They’re usually forced to worship the government and its leaders. State religions. People will do that even if not forced to. Human beings need things to admire, stories to read to give us hope and inspiration. There’s a benefit of worshiping a nonexistent god: those who do never believe any human could be divine. Humans will never be perfect like a god, but if you remove theocracy, the population will start believing certain humans actually can be perfect. That’s undoubtedly more dangerous.
Thus, I still want religion to disappear, but I know it’s best if religion (specifically theocratic religion) stays. It’s better than a society that worships the things of this world.
This is wisdom. It is the knowledge and respect of the fact you can be wrong even if you’re right. Wisdom is understanding how little you understand. It is understanding that there is always more wisdom to gain. It’s impossible to know what wisdom you are still yet to gain – after all, you cannot know what you don’t know – but you can at least know the journey is never over. Not the journey at large, and not when it comes to any particular subject, either.
A piece of paper and pencil can create an infinite number of images. They’re more than the simple objects they seem to be. If a piece of paper and pencil have infinite possibilities, imagine the infinite possibilities that exist with everything else in the universe.
This has been a thought from Thinking Michael. Thanks for reading.
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