To answer this question, we must first consider what we mean by wisdom. Psychologists have defined it as "expertise in the conduct and meaning of life." It's thought that wisdom is a path to living the "good life." The "good life" here refers to a virtuous life involving a striving for human excellence at the individual and societal levels.
A bit much to tackle in a brief newsletter? I think not. In our efforts to increase happiness and fulfillment, we might all benefit from consideration of what it takes to be wise.
Consider the question of what one might recommend to a 15 year old girl who wants to get married. Immediately. What would you think? What would you say to her?
As defined by the researchers, a relatively wise response to this dilemma is approximately the following:
Marriage isn't usually advisable for 15 year olds. But getting married and thinking about marrying are not the same. Maybe there are special circumstances in her case. A terminal illness, perhaps? Maybe she's from another culture with other considerations.
The researchers were looking for evidence of a wide range of knowledge and thought. Factual knowledge (maybe she's a special case), procedural knowledge (15 year old marrying, yikes!), consideration of the context across the lifespan (possible terminal illness) and culturally (maybe from a different culture), and awareness of uncertainty (the careful consideration of possibilities).
To be more specific, I'll propose that to be wise we must aspire to:
How do we develop such a set of skills? A few recommendations from the wise and the literature:
We don't receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us. Marcel Proust
It's really a wonder that I haven't dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe people are really good at heart. Anne Frank
Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom. Bertrand Russell
Much as I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, Mencken was right:
The older I grow the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom. H.L. Mencken
Growing older does not necessarily make us wiser. We have to work at it. But take heart, especially in these economic times:
Wisdom outweighs any wealth. SophoclesCoaching uses tools to help you develop the skills to be older and wiser. Get in touch with me for a complimentary coaching session. We coach by telephone--you can be anywhere.