Monday, May 14, 2007

Wiser and Bolder

What is wisdom? What makes us wise? Is it age? Is it experience? Or is it both? Or is it none of the above?

I recently read in an article that certain qualities associated with wisdom that recur in academic literature are:

1. Clear-eyed view of human nature and the human predicament.
2. Emotional resiliency and the ability to cope in the face of adversity.
3. Openness to other possibilities.
4. Forgiveness.
5. Humility.
6. Knack for learning from lifetime experiences.

The article also mentions that for the wise action is important, and so is judicious inaction. Emotion is central to wisdom, yet detachment is essential

This got me thinking about our culture and the distorted notions of dignity, honor, respect, etc. Are these stifling artificial blocks that we have imposed on ourselves that are keeping us miles away from even getting close to becoming wise?

Simon Clayton, a researcher on wisdom identified in her dissertation three general aspects of human activity that were central to wisdom:

1. Cognitive: The acquisition of knowledge.
2. Reflective: The analysis of that knowledge (information).
3. Affective: The filtering of information through emotions.

I find this a powerful insight in my attempt to understand beliefs and practices that I might find dysfunctional, counterproductive, and even uncivilized. A brief application of the above three aspects of wisdom into our current state of affairs and we soon find that we are far far away from being wise. The sad news is that it seems we have even missed the first stop, which happens to be the very acquisition of knowledge and the very caliber of the knowledge we are busy acquiring.

The more I think of wisdom, the more I am convinced that it is closely related to civility. It is what brings us closer to our humanity. It is what gives us the balance and the compassion to really start making a meaningful difference in life.

As long as we cling to centuries old notions of false values that we all know are intended to protect an outdated status quo for fear of change, I am afraid we will only be harboring a culture that nurtures spineless cowards whose souls are outdated and outmaneuvered.