This post is all about the importance of wisdom: understanding what it is, why it is important and how to use it. I strongly believe we are in need of more wisdom in the world and that it can help to solve many of our problems. Conversely, ignorance and foolishness both create and exacerbate many of our problems, personal, interpersonal and global.
Wisdom is quite difficult to define, as there are a number of definitions and interpretations of it, so it is best to familiarise ourselves with several to better understand it.
- Google’s dictionary defines wisdom as: “the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgement; the quality of being wise.”
- The Oxford English Dictionary gives two definitions. The first is: “Capacity of judging rightly in matters relating to life and conduct; soundness of judgement in the choice of means and ends; sometimes, less strictly, sound sense, esp. in practical affairs: opp. to folly;” The second definition is: ”Knowledge (esp. of a high or abstruse kind); enlightenment, learning, erudition.”
- Charles Haddon Spurgeon defined wisdom as “Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it. There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom.”
- Robert I. Sutton and Andrew Hargadon defined the “attitude of wisdom” as “acting with knowledge while doubting what one knows.”
- Wikipedia defines it as “the ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense and insight. Wisdom is associated with attributes such as unbiased judgment, compassion, experiential self-knowledge, self-transcendence and non-attachment, and virtues such as ethics and benevolence.”
The word knowledge appears in all of these definitions, and yet it is clearly not simply knowledge itself. One could conclude that wisdom is both the process of trying to acquire relevant knowledge, whilst maintaining the ability to doubt ones understanding of the world simultaneously. It is an ongoing process of updating and refining knowledge that has been acquired. It could also be thought of as a form of meta-knowledge. I believe the following phrase is a good summary of wisdom: “However much I know, I do not know enough.” Naturally, this will lead to a person increasing their knowledge throughout the course of their life as they continue to read and learn more, whilst questioning that which they already know to make sure it is a correct and accurate description of reality.
Finally, it is worth knowing that possibly the best antonym of wisdom is the word folly, which means: “lack of good sense; foolishness.” This is typically seen in people who have a limited amount of knowledge, or more importantly, those who overestimate it.
Now that we have a better understanding of what wisdom actually is, we can now explore different ways in how to increase it.
Tip 1: Curiosity
Curiosity is a strong desire to know or learn something, and it is difficult to become wiser if we are no longer interested in exploring the undiscovered parts of the world and even our minds.
Children tend to be appear to be naturally curious, but unfortunately many of us lose the spark of curiosity as we grow older for a variety of reasons. Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist, explains this unfortunate tragedy very well:
“We are born scientists. When we’re born, we wonder what’s out there. We begin to wonder about the Sun, life, the stars, what makes the oceans, the weather. We’re born scientists and then something happens. When we hit the danger years; the danger years of junior high school, and high school; that’s when it’s literally crushed out of us. ’Every little flower of curiositiy’, said Einstein, is crushed by society itself, because we have to learn all these facts, figures, memorization. We think that memorization is science, and that’s not true at all.” ~ Michio Kaku
If you feel as though you have lost your sense of curiosity, your thirst for knowledge or your wonder for the world, then your task is to try and get it back. Try to remember all the times in your life when you were interested or curious about something. What did it feel like? What did you learn as a result of this process? Try to remember the times in your life when you felt apathetic, disinterested, or perhaps you foolishly believed you already knew already. What happened to make you feel this way?
Here are a few other ways:
- Listen more and speak less
- Learn to ask good questions
- Become interested in people
- Learn about a variety of subjects and topics
Tip 2: Humility
Pride, the opposite of humility, is regarded as one of the seven deadly sins, and some believe it to be the worst one. It comes from the Old English word prȳde which means ‘excessive self-esteem’. We cannot become more humble and begin to embrace the virtue of humility until we begin to recognise the role that pride plays in our life and start to address it.
It must be stated that there is a difference between being happy with who you are, your achievements and successes, and having an attitude of arrogance, haughtiness and feelings of superiority. A simple way to understand this concept is to question whether our positive self-evaluation is at the expense of others or independent of them. In other words, do we feel good about ourselves in some area of life in such a way that causes us to look down on others and even mistreat them, or is it an authentic expression of joy and contentment that is free of ego and arrogance.
“It was Pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.” ~ St. Augustine
We are all on a personal journey throughout life and we should spend more time comparing ourselves to who we used to be and who we could be, as opposed to what others are now. We should be happy for both our own growth and progress and the growth and progress of others. Humility keeps us in touch with reality, to our heart and our humanity, whereas pride causes disconnection, and perpetuates insecurity and egotism.
“Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” ~ Proverbs 16:18
Tip 3: Introspection
A third tip in attaining wisdom is to practice introspection on a regular basis. Introspection means to examine our thoughts and feelings, or in a spiritual context it may also involve exploring our soul. How can you know if you are right or wrong unless you check your beliefs, thoughts, and attitudes? We all make mistakes and we are all prone to errors in cognition and judgment, and only through examination and self-reflection will we be able to better understand ourselves and fine-tune our beliefs and perceptions.
The Greek aphorism ‘know thyself’, which is usually attributed to the Socrates, sums up the process of introspection quite well.
Here is a list of question to consider and ask yourself on a regular basis to practice the art of introspection and gain further self-knowledge and self-awareness:
1) How am I feeling right now and what is causing it?
2) What am I thinking right now? How does my thoughts affect my feelings and behaviour?
3) What beliefs do I hold about myself and the world? Where did I learn these beliefs and are they helpful?
4) What is my current attitude towards myself and others? Can I improve this somehow?
5) What significant events in my life have affected me the most? What can I learn from them?
“The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.” ~ Chinese proverb
“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” ~ William Shakespeare
“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” ~ Aristotle
“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” ~ Socrates
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” ~ Albert Einstein
“I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
“It’s said that a wise person learns from his mistakes. A wiser one learns from others’ mistakes. But the wisest person of all learns from others’s successes.” ~ John C. Maxwell