What a woodpecker could teach Google

Photo: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File

S. Joseph Scott

Special for News Talk Florida

Some studies suggest that teens in American spend on average between nine and eleven hours a day nose to screen. That is a full time job, with medical benefits! The mission statement of Google is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Mission accomplished. Consuming disconnected bits of information, however, does not produce wisdom. As one writer put it the computer may simply help us move “our ignorance around the planet at incredible rates of speed.”

Wisdom, in contrast to mere information, is skill in living as we were made to live. Wisdom knows what information applies to any given situation, like a carpenter who instinctively knows you cannot drive a nail with a screwdriver or a banana. Wisdom includes discernment. It gives generously and doesn’t rob or oppress. Wisdom allows achievement to be interrupted by the beauty of a flower, the needs of a friend, or the power of a thunderstorm. It projects present and future outcomes. Wisdom, in other words, is a virtue and promotes the common good.


So, where can we gain wisdom if not from the device in my pocket? How can we help our children mature in wisdom? Not by pecking a keyboard. It takes a lifetime to cultivate. But, here is one simple, accessible, universal way to wisdom. Go outside. If you have them, take the kids too. Put down the device, lift your eyes, wait and see.

The ancients understood what we moderns often miss. Creation speaks when we take the time to listen. Wisdom is discovered in long, slow, careful observation. The venerable King of Israel urges his son, “Go to the ant…consider her ways, and be wise” (Proverbs 6:6). Another sage of Israel tells his friends to, “ask the beasts…or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you, and the fish of the sea will declare to you” (Job 12: 7,8). Jesus’ prescription for anxiety? “Consider the birds of the air” (Matthew 6:26). 

I live in the city, but we have a tree or two. We even have birds. Recently a red-bellied woodpecker drilled a nest in a dying old oak outside our bedroom window, waking us at dawn with incessant hammering. Soon a cheeper was heard; “Little Woody” we named him. Shortly thereafter an “urban gang” threatened his survival. For several weeks Little Woody and his family battled the invaders. Starlings are known for their home invasion tactics, so we learned. Repeatedly, bug-bearing mom and pop woodpeckers were chased away by jet black, yellow-beaked thugs. We took up arms. I borrowed a BB gun to snipe the intruders, but determined the risk of shattering the next-door window too great. My wife hurled sticks and bark. The neighbors began to talk.

And so did we. Nightly updates. Shared insights. We observed the power of parental instincts. We marveled at the struggle for survival. Life or death in the balance. A parable of protective love. Look at the birds. They defend their children. They are wise according to their design. It would be wise for us to defend ourselves and our offspring against the foolishness produced by incessant distraction.  Creation speaks. Creation reflects the wisdom of the creator, as art does its artist. What does it tell us? Have a listen.  

Wisdom is slow. Wisdom is old. Wisdom is nuance. And wisdom is often found in patient, time-lapse observation of the natural world. With noses hooked to screens we collect information but lose wisdom. If you want to grow in wisdom, or cultivate it in your children here is a simple prescription, mom used to say it repeatedly, go outside and play. But, don’t miss the ants or the birds. Look, listen, and learn.


But perhaps we all prefer fast, electronic distractions to nature’s lessons; quick tip-of-the-finger info-massages, to nature’s lessons. There we indeed learn of life and death; love; and the Creator who made it and us, all.

S. Joseph Scott has a Ph.D. in theology and has served in leadership positions in both higher education and religious institutions. He has published in both academic and popular journals and has a special interest in the intersection of faith and culture.