The Essence of Learning Wisdom

From the Library of Congress. The caption underneath the painting reads, “IGNORANCE IS THE CVRSE OF GOD, KNOWLEDGE IS THE WING WHEREWITH WE FLY TO HEAVEN.”

Clearly, the 21st Century presents different challenges and opportunities than the 20th. To prosper we should think about developing mental abilities and skills that are in demand that few have — abilities such as wisdom. Wisdom is a rare and valuable ability. Considered a gift of the divine in some cultures, it’s built over time if one learns The Essence of Wisdom.

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    “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” — Confucius

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    Words of Wisdom Quotes

    Some quotes are particularly interesting. You might call these wisdom quotes because it’s true, but you are not sure why.  Sometimes years later you see it again and go, “Oh, now I understand.”

    “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” — Socrates

    “Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.”— George Bernard Shaw

    “The longer the explanation, the bigger the lie.” — Chinese Proverb

    “Our character is what we do when we think no one is looking.” — Unknown 

    “Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.” —  Sun Tzu

    “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” — The Serenity Prayer (Reinhold Niebuhr)

    You might say that weeds in a garden are like false beliefs in the mind. Periodically, one must clear them out if one wants to have a thing of beauty. A transformational mindset requires one to continually question the assumptions ones makes to determine whether they are true or not.

    Not everything you learned in school is correct. When one is young, one focuses on learning. As one gets older, you realize that you have to unlearn what you learned when you were young. Sounds weird, huh. But some of what you know is false, but you don’t know it is false. You need to transform your thinking, but fail to understand the simple truth.

    •  Forbes: Here are 9 questionable assumptions

    Take a simple example. A true or false statement goes, “The sun rises in the east.” If you think true, you are only partly correct. Actually, the sun doesn’t rise, the earth rotates.

    It is the beginning of wisdom to understand that not all commonly accepted truths are true. However, when one encounters information that is not consistent with your accepted truth, we do not question the belief, we discount the information. In the case of the article, if you encounter a statement the runs counter to what’s already installed,  you likely will reject the new information out of hand and not even consciously think about it.

    Every field has its set of false assumptions accepted as true. I once had a friend tell me that he liked business better than politics since “The business types tend to be more rational and pragmatic.” Pragmatic yes, since you get more negative feedback. Rational, no since business has its share of false beliefs.

    Let us take one assumption commonly stated today by many b-school professors. It goes, “You need to manage people.” Many of you have heard it before, and maybe think, “Yes, I am a manager of people.”

    I accepted this for quite a few years but eventually came to realize it was not that accurate. Actually, a more accurate saying was said many years ago by Grace Hopper. In this case, “You manage things, you lead people.” She should know. She left the U.S. Navy as a rear admiral having started in public service during World War Two.

    But if one accepts people can be managed, one will not devote the time and effort needed to develop leadership skills since one discounts leadership in all its many forms as unimportant to being a good manager.

    Meaning of Wisdom

    Generally speaking, wisdom is not a well-studied area in psychology or sociology. But there are a few people who publish extensively in the area. One of these individuals is Monika Ardelt and she has made available her research on wisdom.

    Her approach suggests that wisdom has three general characteristics: a reflective, cognitive and affective side. But this is not the only view as the article, “The Science of Older and Wiser,” points out. Many have commented that seniors or getting old causes some to become wiser. Not all surely, some 70-year-olds are just as immature as they were when they were 17. 

    Wisdom in The Use of Time

    I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.” — William Shakespeare,  Richard II

    Strange how little time we really have. Simply a blink in the eye of the universe. In a 14.7 billion year universe, we might make 100. You might say, so little time and so much to do.

    This is more than simple time management—something many do not do at all or do well. It is looking fundamentally for how time is used from the moment to the decade.

    After all, is it really all about the hedonistic pleasures we see prancing across our screens?

    See what some really smart people (Seneca, Kierkegaard, and Witman) have said about how to make better use of time.

    The Practice of Wisdom

    It’s hard to find individuals everyone would consider wise. And sometimes this understanding develops only after someone has passed. 

    Below are a couple of individuals who speak in the area of psychology, but what they are saying has broader social implications

    Tim Kasser: The Psychological Impact of Materialism

    In b-schools and businesses throughout the world, smart individuals are putting serious thought into getting you to buy something-maybe something you really don’t need. Discover the impact of consumerism on your mental health. 

    Donald Kalshed: Trauma and the Soul 

    The focus here is understanding the problems and opportunities in individual development. It’s a bit of developmental psychology that among other things discusses suffering.

    Test Your Wisdom: How Wise are You?

    There are several different ways to test your wisdom. Two are presented here. 

    Test 1: The Scientific Approach

    It’s the age of stats, anything that can’t be quantified is suspect. So it had to happen, a multiple-choice test to see if you are wise or not. It reminds me of estimating the beauty of the Grand Canyon by looking at a map of Arizona. Still, it’s better than nothing.

    Take this quick 36 question online test hosted by the NY Times.

    Test 2: The Metaphoric Approach

    Meynier: Wisdom Defending Youth Against Love

    Before the rise of science, one way to judge whether someone was wise was their ability to use teaching stories. Teaching stories contain hidden meanings. Wisdom is required to devise the story and to interpret what was meant. Take the story below, that comes from within Sufism. In this spiritual tradition within Islam.  In this tradition, there is an individual by the name of Nasrudin. Nasrudin does foolish things, similar to the average man or woman.

    A man is walking home late one night sees an anxious Mulla Nasrudin down on all fours, crawling on his hands and knees searching under a streetlight. “Mulla, what have you lost?” the passer-by asks. “I am searching for my key,” Nasrudin says worriedly. Soon both men are down on their knees under the streetlight, looking for the lost key. After some time, the man asks Nasrudin, “Tell me Mulla, do you remember where exactly did you drop the key?” Nasrudin waves his arm back toward the darkness and says, “I lost the key inside my house…” Said the passerby, “Then why are you searching for the key  here?”  “Because there is more light here than inside my house,”  Nasrudin replied.

    Do you know what this means? Here is one answer.

    • Lost: A Problem
    • The Key: The answer
    • Light: What is known
    • Darkness: What is unknown

    Therefore you have to sometimes seek the answers to your problems in the darkness of what you don’t know, rather than the light of existing knowledge.

    Wisdom Resources and References

    Ardelt, M. (2005). How wise people cope with crises and obstacles in life. ReVision: A Journal of Consciousness and Transformation, 28(1), 7-19.

    Grant, Adam (2013). How to Think Like a Wise PersonPsychology Today. August 28.

    Hall, Stephen (2007). The Older is Wiser HypothesisNY Times, May 6.

    Nonaka,Ikujiro and Takeuchi, Hirotaka (2012). The Big Idea: The Wise Leader, Harvard Business Review

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