This is the latest in a series of blogs by partners of the Fluency work.
By Bea Dias
I am the making of many
I am the product of love
My community builds with me
My wisdom is theirs, is mine, is ours
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about wisdom. What does it mean to know, and how do we build knowledge and make sense of the world? Our lived experiences and communities are the sources of much of our wisdom, and yet we often fail to recognize this way of knowing. As a young girl I saw knowledge as something one obtains from outside sources - mainly adults and books. I didn’t realize that I was already building ways of knowing and understanding the world - through my consciousness, my interactions, my experiences, my family, my ancestors, my teachers, my friends, my community, my country, my world.
In my early years I learned that the world was not designed for me, and I later understood that success in the material world would require me to give up or suppress pieces of my identity. Although I climbed that ladder to academic success, I still felt empty and lost. bell hooks describes this feeling in her book ‘all about love’: “If we succeed without confronting and changing shaky foundations of low self-esteem rooted in contempt and hatred, we will falter along the way.” I am only just realizing my own power and emerging from my shell of self-doubt and internalized rage. This transition is only possible because of the people in my life. Their collective wisdom of love, self-care and joy nurtures my soul and creates spaces where I can thrive and embrace my full humanity. Wisdom of the beloved community (as Dr. King envisioned it) is powerful.
I often compare this way of knowing (i.e. through collective wisdom), with knowledge gained in a professional setting. In doctorate programs we are trained to be ‘experts’ in a narrow field of study - know something so well that no one else can know more about it. For me that experience rang false, because I never felt comfortable claiming sole ownership of “expertise” in anything. Learning is not a solitary journey, and so knowledge gained cannot be proprietary. The beauty of collective wisdom is that it is rooted in a sense of community. My wisdom is not my own, it is a collective wisdom, and it is constantly changing and evolving.
Academia has taught me a lot and enabled me to gain many skills, but I didn’t always recognize how indigenous, ancestral and community knowledge manifested in academic spaces or were left out of those spaces altogether. Maya Angelou compels us to: “Listen carefully to what country people call mother wit. In those homely sayings are couched the collective wisdom of generations.” We must begin to rethink and critically assess how we prioritize and value wisdom. Whose scholarship do we celebrate and whose knowledge do we ignore? Gholdy Muhammad researched 19th century Black Literary Societies and found great wisdom in how they strategized their learning. They had four learning goals: 1) Identity Development, 2) Cultivation of Skills, 3) Intellectualism, and 4) Criticality, “...so they knew how to navigate the world toward anti-oppression.” (Gholdy Muhammad in Abolitionist Teaching and the Future of our Schools). These goals offer a pathway for our collective liberation, but we have to be willing to truly embrace collective wisdom. This requires us to honor the knowledge of those who lived before us, the wisdom of our youth, and the collective genius of our communities. This is especially true of wisdom that comes from Black, Indigenous and People of Color communities, whose knowledge has historically been devalued, appropriated, or erased. Our collective wisdom informs who I am, and inspires my freedom dreams.
"The anchor of all my dreams is the collective wisdom of [hu]mankind as a whole." ~Nelson Mandela
M. Beatrice Dias (Bea), Ph.D. is the Co-Director of Outreach for the CMU CREATE Lab. Her work focuses on engaging with different communities of practice to explore the role of technology in society. Bea earned her undergraduate degree from Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. Following college, she worked in the private sector for two years before moving to Pittsburgh to complete her Ph.D. in Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). Bea embraces joy, believes in our collective wisdom and practices freedom-dreaming. She is the proud mama of an 8-year-old and is part of a very big Sri Lankan family.