What Is Wisdom?

A lot of human suffering can result from holding distorted beliefs, and taking foolish actions and decisions. That is to say, impulsiveness, selfishness, ignorance, obsession with having fun, impatience and so much more. An abundance of those kinds of choices inevitably produces bad behaviors and painful feelings, sometimes with devastating life situations: poverty, toxic relationships, addiction, criminality and overall failure.

Working for many years as a psychotherapist, it has become clear that schools and parents might educate most of us to understand the cost of folly. However, teaching about the value of wisdom is absent. Did any of your teachers talk about wisdom, or did your mom or dad, aunt, uncle or grandparent ever teach you about it? Not likely and very unfortunate. Because a lack of wisdom seems to be pervading today’s world, it’s obvious that it can be the source of big problems. Thus, it seems worth thinking about.

First, let’s consider what the ancient thinkers have said about wisdom. The Greek philosopher, Plato, defined wisdom as “the conjunction of knowledge and virtue.” A beautiful, concise and accurate statement. Knowledge of what is true, what is right, what is wrong. And virtue: the impulse to do good for others and for the larger body of humanity, as well as caring for oneself. In the Bible, the Book of Proverbs gives many examples of wise behavior and attitudes, as contrasted with foolish behavior. The wise person: listens to advice, accepts correction, does not speak impulsively, does not hang out with foolish people, does not get into fights or spend time with violent people, gives honest answers when asked … and more.

Now, to a current definition. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says that wisdom is: “ability to discern inner qualities and relationships – insight – good sense – good  judgment – a wise attitude, belief, or course of action – the teachings of the ancient wise men [and women].”

In this brief article, I’d like to offer the following ideas about the characteristics of the wise person. 

Maturity

Clarity about the difference between right and wrong

Honesty in acknowledging what one does not know

Self-control

Tact and diplomacy – the ability to be honest, as well as gentle and kind

Vision: The ability to see the big picture, to focus on a goal or purpose and not become distracted by little stuff

Patience

Love of learning

The courage to forgive

Ability to consistently place genuine need above desire and appetite

Love and respect for humankind

The ability to think critically – to tell a valid argument from a false argument

To be able to make a decision and stick to it when necessary – and the flexibility to change course when it is called upon.

Ability to work through conflict and to help others to do it

Ability to communicate with a variety of people, regardless of their intelligence or achievements

Ability to do hard things such as:

To let go of negative experiences, thoughts, actions and feelings which hold us back -To accept the hard realities of life: for example, the fact that some problems have no solution – that some situations are beyond our ability to influence and to change – that life is filled with mysteries we may never understand – that even the people closest to us may some day let us down … the list goes on.

We know that wisdom only comes from experience, sometimes hard experience. And as one joker has said, “Experience? That’s the thing you get after you needed it!”

As you move through life, you will make choices about friendships, kids, marriage, work, lifestyle. Occasionally, you will need to make a wise decision. If you’re in a spot right now, having to make a decision and not sure of the wise course of action, you may want a professional perspective. If so, please feel free to reach out. The phone number is (219) 309-3928. I’d be honored to be of service.

Thanks for reading!