Wisdom, Justice and Joy

“Be careful of the words you say, to make them soft and sweet, you never know from day to day, which ones you may have to eat.” Anon

Words matter. We have all heard this from our high school English teachers. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to a group of high school students who were receiving scholarship awards from the Italian American Club. I chose to focus on the meaning of three words- wisdom, justice and joy- as I believe these words resonate well with the work we do here at Volunteers in Medicine.

Wisdom is defined as the quality of having experience, knowledge and good judgement. It is often confused with intelligence, which is the ability to acquire and apply knowledge. What makes wisdom the more valuable of these two characteristics is the critical thinking and application of ethics and morals to acquired knowledge to achieve the best outcome.

Justice is the legal or philosophical theory by which fairness is administered. It is considered a core value of this country as codified in the Declaration of Independence (We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…). It also appears in the terminal stanza of the Pledge of Allegiance- … “with liberty and justice for all.”

While the need for fairness covers many types of human endeavor, it is typically prescribed by rules or laws. However, it is not unusual for these laws to be in contradistinction to our notion of fairness. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s came about due to discriminatory laws and practices against people of color. It is clear that even today we continue to struggle with fair allocation of our laws as the maturation of our culture is a dynamic process.

Joy is a concept that intrigued me when I started working at Volunteers in Medicine. After reading “The Circle of Caring” and reviewing numerous videos of Dr. Jack’s speeches, it was clear that the mission and vision of VIM was meant to be practiced joyfully. Indeed, the cultural fabric is made of the joy the volunteers and staff bring to their work. It certainly distinguishes our clinic from other places I have worked.

But what is the meaning of joy? In most dictionaries joy is synonymous with happiness. To me, joy seems to be more profound than that. Finally, I found a spiritual definition which states that joy is finding happiness in the service of others. What a fitting definition for the way we go about our work at Volunteers in Medicine!

As we celebrate our independence and our freedom, let us not forget our responsibility to live wisely, treat our neighbors fairly, and work joyfully.