Friday, January 16, 2015

We Need to Cultivate Wisdom!

In these times when innocent people are slaughtered for "causing offence" we don't hear much about wisdom. When was the last time you heard a political leader stress the social importance of wisdom or speak about the need for more of it?

Yet across time and cultures, wisdom has been viewed as our most reliable guide to action, a key to the advancement and integration of knowledge, and a principle human virtue linked to long-term fulfilment and wellbeing.

For me, wisdom is the balanced use of reason, intuition and compassion to make and encourage good decisions that promote human flourishing. How can we cultivate wisdom? Here are six qualities you can practice to become wise.

1. Richness of Knowledge

A wise person tends to have what Paul Baltes and colleagues call "an extensive database about life matters". He or she is also likely to have "rich procedural knowledge" - many different ways of thinking about problems and their possible solutions. Intelligence is important, but not sufficient. How many different frameworks of thinking can you draw on when considering a problem in your life?

2. Empathy

Self-centred people are far less likely to be wise. Wisdom is consistently associated with compassion and the ability to put yourself in the other person's shoes. Everyone one of us seeks to have more happiness and to avoid suffering. Ask yourself, "what it would feel like to be experiencing life from the other person's perspective?"

3. Equanimity

The wise person can regulate his or her emotions to meet joy and suffering equally - to treat setbacks as problems to learn from and puzzles to solve. Do events in life "make" you happy or sad? Are the triggers mostly "out there"? It turns out your emotional state is, by and large, a choice. And you can practice maintaining an equilibrium in your emotional state no matter what adversity you may face.

4. Perspective

The wise person's point of view is broad and disinterested, not partisan. Yet paradoxically, they are able to see through complexities  and grasp the foundation and essence of an issue - "the nub" of the topic. Try to "picture" the issue, to see it as a metaphor. Think about the short-tern and the long-term. You can practice "zooming in" to the details and "zooming out" to see the big picture, just as you might do on Google Earth!

5. Recognition of Values

Some values are so essential that they should be binding for all of us. But the wise person realises that such values are few and are often subject to interpretation. He or she recognises that "truth" is not a unity in which all the pieces fit together harmoniously - that there is no single grand narrative that explains everything. You might try acknowledging that the conflicts you see - in society, and in yourself - are not so much about good versus evil, but about two legitimate goods in tension with each other.

6. Acceptance of Uncertainty

The wise person views doubts and ambiguity not as enemies to be resisted, but as acquaintances to be accommodated. Much of wisdom appears to be the capacity to accept realistically what's not known and what's not knowable. Recognise the exquisite randomness of events. Nothing is truly certain. What you choose to do right now might turn out to be the wisest thing you could possibly have done - or the most foolish!

Surely our politics, our media and our public conversation today could use a little more empathy, perspective and conciliation, and a little less certitude, aggression and intransigence. Wisdom is uncommon in human affairs. But it needs to be cultivated, both individually and socially, if we are to prevent the collapse of our social systems and our biosphere.

The first step is wanting to do so.