One of the most important traits that a human can possess, which is said to distinguish humans from other animals, is wisdom. A wiser world will also be a more peaceful, harmonious and enjoyable one. 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.
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
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
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?
Below are three historical people known for their wisdom, insights, and teachings, and two of their quotations with an added interpretation for further clarity and understanding.
1. Lao Tzu
Lao Tzu, also known as Lao-Tze or Laozi (“Old Master”), was a Chinese philosopher and writer who was born in 601 BC and died in 531 BC. He is most famous for being the author of Tao Te Ching, a Chinese classic text, and being the founder of Taoism, a religion that emphasises living in harmony with the Tao (“The Way”).
“To attain knowledge, add things everyday. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.”
The first quote by Lao Tzu helps us to realise the difference between knowledge and wisdom. In the case of the former, we increase our knowledge through the process of accumulating facts, data, and information. In the case of the latter, we instead begin to evaluate and refine our knowledge through a process of quality control, so that we are only left with the most important and useful things. Knowledge, which relates to facts, information, and also skills that are acquired through education and experience, is an important process in our development as humans. Becoming wiser, however, is an even more important step, and one that not everyone manages to achieve since they believe their knowledge is sufficient and not in need of scrutiny. This quote can also be likened to the well known idiom: to separate the wheat from the chaff.
“The truth is not always beautiful, nor beautiful words the truth.”
The world would be a simpler and far more pleasant place to live in, if everyone always told the truth and the truth was always a beautiful sound to the ears it fell upon. Unfortunately, that is not how the world works, and more often than not, it is quite the opposite. The truth can be loved or it can be hated; it all depends on whether we are currently living in alignment with it and whether we are prepared to accept the implications of accepting it. Carl Sagan once said, “Better the hard truth, I say, than the comforting fantasy.” As an astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist, and astrobiologist, he spent much of his life trying to better understand the cosmos using the tools of science, and realised the vast difference between our subjective experience of the word and the objective findings that science brings.
We live in a word of truth and lies, and their immediate appeal and palatability is dependent on the person and the circumstances, which are subject to change. What seems unpleasant to the eye and ear, may contain hidden treasures, and what may appear beautiful, may eventually lead us to ruin.
As you go forwards in life, you should keep an open mind to what you see and hear but remain skeptical too, because after all, the truth is not always beautiful, nor beautiful words the truth.
Buddha, who was born as Siddhartha Gautama, was a spiritual teacher from Nepal in 6th century B.C. His teachings later became the foundation of the religion of Buddhism. He was also a monk, mendicant, sage, philosopher, teacher and religious leader. The name Buddha means “one who is awakened” or “the enlightened one.”
“Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.”
A common problem that nearly all of us with face in our life at one time or another is the hate from others. Whether that be haters who envy our success, hate from those with different views and beliefs, or simply hate in the form of bullying, violence or abuse for no apparent reason. It is quite natural and even common that the receiver of hatred may feel both justified in showing hate towards the one who is trying to hurt them. The problem is, if we respond with the same energy that we have received, not only does it rarely solve the problem, but we have now become more like the one that has hurt us, intentionally or otherwise. Can you put out a fire with fire? Is poison the antidote to poison? Then why would we assume generating and expressing our own hate will somehow solve our problem, mend a broken relationship, or improve the world we inhabit? Of course, only love has the power to do that, and that is everyone’s challenge to practice and develop, especially in times of conflict and adversity. It is not always an easy thing todo, however, with sufficient practice and patience, it can become second-nature.
“The root of suffering is attachment.”
One interpretation of this quote is that all attachment can be a cause of suffering. Another interpretation, which takes a more nuanced understanding, means that excessive attachment to the wrong things, or attachment that exists longer than necessary is really what causes or perpetuates much of our suffering. It is a simple idea with a great deal of truth, and one that would be wise to try to understand and apply to our lives. It is also worth exploring the possibility that this concept may apply to internal factors as much as, if not more than, external factors. For example, to what degree have we become attached to redundant or unhelpful beliefs, ideas, habits, attitudes, or dispositions such as resentment, bitterness, and vengefulness? Perhaps, in the final analysis it is the ego itself that we become too attached too, and thus causing and exacerbating much of the suffering in the world.
Socrates, who lived from c. 470-399 BC was a Greek philosopher from Athens and is regarded as the founder of Western philosophy. Socrates did not document his teachings, and what we know of him is based on the accounts of others, namely his pupils Plato and Aristotle, both famous Greek philosophers, and Xenophon, a historian.
He also developed the ‘Socratic method’, a form of cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking.
“There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.”
With this simple, yet powerful quote, Socrates is drawing our attention to the importance of knowledge and equally the dangers of ignorance. Even people with the best of intentions can cause potential harm if their understanding of the world is incomplete or inaccurate; conversely, knowledge has the power to resolve conflicts, and keep us from harm by better understanding the laws of the universe. Building an accurate picture of reality is imperative to human wellbeing.
“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
This famous dictum by Socrates was apparently said by him at his trial, for which he was subsequently sentenced to death.Socrates believed that philosophy, which translates to ‘love of wisdom’, was the most important pursuit, and a life without it was simply not worth living.
In modern times, the average person is not expected to commit to philosophy and wisdom to the same degree of Socrates, such that it may lead to their death, however, a moderate amount of inquiry and examination of both their mind and life may help to improve the qualitative experience of life, in addition to the development of wisdom.
Have we truly examined ourselves and our lives? Have we honestly explored all possibilities? Have we really been honest with ourselves about what matters and what is important? Our life and the effect we have on the world will serve as evidence of the answers to those questions.
Below is a list of condensed ideas and mindsets about various subjects in the form of ‘bitesize wisdom’, which are hopefully easily to understand and remember. Sometimes a few simple and wise mindsets can greatly help when facing challenging situations and circumstances.
#1 Insecurities – https://www.instagram.com/p/B2PWYd2FpnF/
#2 Making a difference – https://www.instagram.com/p/B3fYw7vBzM-/
#3 Taking things personally – https://www.instagram.com/p/B5ImHkoBNdX/
#4 Dealing with insults – https://www.instagram.com/p/B7iwEXoh3df/
#5 Perspective – https://www.instagram.com/p/B-egx6iDTSL/
#6 Criticism – https://www.instagram.com/p/CC_kx52js1j/
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