What Is Wisdom?

Discussion in 'Philosophy & Psychology' started by Dallas Green, Apr 7, 2018.

  1. Dallas Green

    Dallas Green New Member
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    What could be worse than a know-it-all? You know what I mean. A know-it-all is someone who has memorized a lot of information and loves nothing better than sharing it with others, whether they’ve asked to hear it or not. The know-it-all shows up at parties, or in classrooms, or in the workplace, or worst of all, sitting beside you on a long airplane or bus ride. They’re fountains of information, and they’re never wrong – at least in their own minds.


    And maybe they do have a lot of accurate facts to share. Maybe they’re very intelligent, and maybe they’ve been excellent students, and maybe they’ve been successful in their fields. But are they wise? Can someone so annoying possibly possess the quality we identify as wisdom? Personally, I think not. The way I see it, wisdom would (if nothing else) give one the sense to know when to keep quiet and when to speak. But that’s just my point of view.


    Wisdom is a topic that’s been subject to different opinions over the centuries. I encourage everyone to voice opinions, and to challenge the scholars on their notions about wisdom. That said, it’s vital that we pay close attention to what others have to say before we make up our minds. Doug Larson, an American journalist, would no doubt agree. He once wrote, "Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you would have preferred to talk."


    Have You Ever Met Someone Wise?


    Have you ever met someone wise? Moreover, if you were to meet someone for the first time, do you think you could judge whether or not that person possessed wisdom? Would you require a lengthy relationship in order to make this judgement? What qualities would tell you that someone was wise? How would you distinguish wisdom from eloquence, or sophistication, or compassion?


    I ask you to consider these questions for a reason. Before we begin discussing wisdom as a quality and as a feature of the human experience, we need to make sure it’s something that we can identify when we come across it in our daily lives.


    Defining Wisdom


    We’ll come back to this question later. But for now, let’s turn our attention to the matter of defining the word “wisdom.” When we look at dictionary definitions, we find that the concept boils down to the type of human behaviour that’s admired and encouraged in societies throughout the world. The Oxford Dictionary, with its typical restraint, defines wisdom as “The quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgement.”

    Merriam Webster’s definition is similar: “Knowledge that is gained by having many experiences in life; the natural ability to understand things that most other people cannot understand; knowledge of what is proper or reasonable; good sense or judgment.” It’s interesting to note how Merriam Webster sets the bar higher than Oxford. Merriam Webster states that wisdom is a natural ability, which implies it’s something that can’t be easily learned. Merriam Webster includes “knowledge of what is proper or reasonable” – that is to say, knowledge of virtue, or morality. Significantly, it stops short of saying that wisdom involves acting on this knowledge. Rather, “good sense or judgement” suggests that the wise are able to avoid making bad decisions.

    When I consider these definitions, I sense that something is missing. To my mind, wisdom also includes a demonstrative, emotional element. To my mind, wisdom is found not only in words, but also in deeds. Moreover, wisdom might be developed collectively, and exist through the actions of a cohesive group. This type of community wisdom could be unintentional, or it could be something the group deliberately tries to develop, as is found in the World Wisdom Alliance. But even this could fall short. Some go even further and include their relationship with the natural and spiritual world as key to becoming wise.

    Humility

    So what is wisdom? Wisdom is difficult to define when we limit ourselves to abstract, philosophical descriptions. Although theories abound, those who do research on wisdom study peoplewho exhibit the qualities of wisdom. They study people who have lived in a way that demonstrates wisdom. But how do you find someone to study? Well, sending out a questionnaire and asking people if they’re wise wouldn’t work well at all. For one reason, a frequently noted quality of the wise is their humility. Not only do they refuse to proclaim their wisdom, but they’re aware of the measure of their own foolishness. The wise can observe themselves objectively, honestly, and with an uncommon amount of insight.

    Across all cultures, humility is considered to be a quality of the wise. The wise aren’t braggarts, no matter how accomplished they might be. From this, we could conclude that conceit or arrogance indicates the opposite of wisdom, which is foolishness. By way of example, think of the occasions when you’ve had to endure the company of someone conceited. Perhaps it was a dinner guest who dominated the conversation, not realizing (or caring!) that they were boring everyone. Regardless of how much knowledge and skill they might have possessed, if they lacked the sense to acknowledge the others around them, they were acting foolishly. Their judgment was poor. By contrast, those who are humble know that to stop listening means to stop learning. Those who are humble accept that there is always more to know.

    Whenever discussion turns to humility, I’m reminded of my experience as an undergraduate student. Although arrogance wasn’t actively encouraged, neither was it discouraged. In my memory, we began our journey toward arrogance by omitting one small phrase from our vocabulary. My professors never said it, and the students certainly never did. This was the phrase, “I don’t know.” Personally, I’d heard that phrase a lot in my public high school. To my mind, “I don’t know” was often the correct answer. Not only did I lack an answer to many questions: much of the time I didn’t even understand the questions my teachers were asking!

    Unwillingness to admit ignorance – unwillingness to be humble – could be understood as a sign of underdeveloped wisdom. Perhaps if teachers were more willing to admit their own gaps in knowledge, students would follow suit. Too often, students and teachers unwittingly conspire to support a culture of arrogance. It might be a small crime in the history of learning, but repeated over time, it can lead to a habit of intellectual laziness, assumption making, and inaccuracy. And this practice can have disastrous consequences on society.


    For Discussion: What is your definition of wisdom?
     
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  2. Frank Sanoica

    Frank Sanoica Very Well-Known Member
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    Wisdom is closely linked with humility, which is a function of negative Ego. I have stored away an enormous amount of information in my 75 years, retained a lot of it, share it as I sense a need to, if I believe it will be of benefit to others. I've been known to be wrong, often. And acknowledge it when that happens.

    I don't know it all, but frequently spout off as though I might, if misperceived. Thus, my reputation precedes me, and has proven both good and bad.

    Thus, I laughed when I read through the OP.
    Frank
     
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  3. Patsy Faye

    Patsy Faye Veteran Member
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    Wisdom to me, is 'learning' from life experiences, some people never learn they wander aimlessly into the next
    chapter repeating the mistakes
    Wisdom is listening and taking in the information and then to pass on that information in a form of discussion
    rather than aggression
    I have seen troubled kids turned around by the 'approach' of a senior, someone who is a better teacher than the previous
    one that failed. Wisdom is not flaunting knowledge but nurturing it and the person you want to help.
    Wisdom is common sense
     
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  4. Bobby Cole

    Bobby Cole Veteran Member
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    Is not wisdom the understanding of the knowledge one has obtained? Many people know without understanding what it is that they believe they know.
    Having the knowledge of what a hammer does is useful but having such an understanding of it that one can actually use the hammer will build cities whilst simple knowledge without understanding does naught.
     
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  5. Babs Hunt

    Babs Hunt Veteran Member
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    Wisdom to me is knowing when "to hold them" and "when to fold them." :)
     
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  6. Dallas Green

    Dallas Green New Member
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    So true -- humility and wisdom appear to go hand-in-hand. This has been acknowledged in cultures throughout the world. For me, being able to admit when I'm wrong has been the hardest hurdle to jump. Learning to say those words, "I was wrong" -- and even harder, "You were right" -- has been perhaps the most promising sign that I might not go down in history as a Knowitall myself!
     
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  7. Dallas Green

    Dallas Green New Member
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    Yes, I agree! I've had to learn how to pick my battles. Didn't actually learn this until I was in my mid-forties. I had to accrue a lot of scars before figuring this one out!
     
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  8. Dallas Green

    Dallas Green New Member
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    Listening is truly one of the least understood, and most valuable skills we can develop. I agree with you wholeheartedly. I like how you focus on passing along one's wisdom to the next generation. You mention "in a form of discussion." Socrates himself used this form of teaching. He'd ask questions and let his students work their way toward the answer. Sometimes knowing the right questions to ask is the key to having a good discussion. And how can one possibly know which questions to ask without first listening?
     
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  9. Dallas Green

    Dallas Green New Member
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    I'd love to know more of your thoughts on this. What I hear you saying is that wisdom is more than simply knowing the "that" of something. Wisdom comes from knowing why and how and what.

    If this is so, then why is it that so many students leave school with nothing but rote knowledge? In other words, how do students need to be taught if they are to develop wisdom?
     
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  10. Patsy Faye

    Patsy Faye Veteran Member
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    True !
     
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  11. Bobby Cole

    Bobby Cole Veteran Member
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    One of the first words out of a child's mouth is, "why". Is it curiosity or is it the want for wisdom? Most certainly it is for curiosity but the rub is as the child gets older that question seems to disappear.
    Is it because curiosity stops and leaves a void or is it that rote knowledge takes it's place?
    If it is indeed rote knowledge then when does uttering the word, "why" to gain understanding become wisdom?
    And lastly, once understood that the asking of why isn't a mark of a wise man but he who has the ability to use his understanding once the question's answer has been found; it is he who is wise.

    Could not understanding be likened to a ship and wisdom the sails by which the ship moves forward?
     
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  12. Gloria Mitchell

    Gloria Mitchell Very Well-Known Member
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    The ability to realize you should Think first...Act upon secondly.
     
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  13. Babs Hunt

    Babs Hunt Veteran Member
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    King Solomon in 1 Kings 3:5-12 was asked by God in a dream what God could give to him. And King Solomon asked for an understanding heart to judge God's people, and to be able to discern between good and evil. King Solomon asked God for wisdom and God made him the wisest King there ever was. The Book of Proverbs contains much of the Wisdom that King Solomon learned and wanted to pass on to others.

    We can learn much about wisdom from reading the Book of Proverbs and about King Solomon in 1 Kings 3:11. We can also learn from King Solomon how easy wisdom can be lost too.
     
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  14. Shirley Martin

    Shirley Martin Veteran Member
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    Wisdom is not making the same mistake twice. Unless the first time was fun. :D
     
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  15. Gloria Mitchell

    Gloria Mitchell Very Well-Known Member
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    Your wicked....:p
     
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  16. Shirley Martin

    Shirley Martin Veteran Member
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  17. Bobby Cole

    Bobby Cole Veteran Member
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    I do agree with you most whole heartedly Babs.
    In my estimation, Solomon was a wise speaker, but not a very wise doer which fits many seemingly wise people. The story of Solomon says that people from all over the known world came to hear him speak and hear his wisdom but alas, his actions dealing with his personal life were not guided by his own words. The old testament story of Solomon goes a little further and tells us that even God regretted having Solomon as king.

    Perhaps it is just one of the many examples of, "do as I say, not as I do", types of people.
     
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  18. Shirley Martin

    Shirley Martin Veteran Member
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    Would a man who had 500 wives be considered wise? :eek::D
     
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  19. Bobby Cole

    Bobby Cole Veteran Member
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    Uh, make that 700 wives and 300 concubines to boot but no, not very wise at all because as the history lesson says, "these thousand wives took his heart from God".

    On the lighter side though, if each wife and concubine took their turn and "knew" Solomon, each one would only be with him once in 2.73 years.
    That may sound like a little bit-0-heaven for some men but if we perform one other extrapolation involving uh..let's say, cramps and Midol, we have 33 or so ladies who are ready to assassinate him or whoever was handy each day of the month but that doesn't count overlaps and pregnancies.
    There was no peace forthcoming in that palace!

    Me thinks that what might have started out to be a bit-o-heaven on earth would be a near replica of h-e-double hockey sticks.
     
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  20. Shirley Martin

    Shirley Martin Veteran Member
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    Plus having to keep peace among all those women. :eek:
     
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  21. Von Jones

    Von Jones Veteran Member
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    I like this and feel it is a crucial point. Sometimes when listening to others conversations or discussions I think to myself "Why aren't they asking this or that?" to get a better understanding. I find that these conversations or discussions turn into debates ultimately to prove who is right and who is wrong.
     
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  22. Bobby Cole

    Bobby Cole Veteran Member
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    The key here, in my opinion, stems from a single word; "listen". There are many, as you well know, who get into a conversation that really isn't a conversation. It's no more than one-upmanship in that people hear something, start processing their own answers without actually listening to whatever it is that they are formulating an answer to.
    Unless a person is deaf, we all hear but how many of us are students of listening?

    A number of years ago, a gentleman in California put an ad in the newspaper stating that he would sit and listen for 30 minutes or so without saying anything for the price of $20.00. As it turned out, his idea was a hit and there were not enough hours in a day to fulfill all of the requests for a seating.

    The Proverb which says, "bow your ear to me my son, and I will teach you wisdom" is most noteworthy because it first demands listening which in this case is the first step of wisdom.
     
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  23. Thomas Stearn

    Thomas Stearn New Member
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    First of all, I'd go along with a lot of what you wrote and with what others have mentioned. In particular, I agree to your above-quoted statement.
    To answer your questions: "Have You Ever Met Someone Wise? Moreover, if you were to meet someone for the first time, do you think you could judge whether or not that person possessed wisdom? Would you require a lengthy relationship in order to make this judgement? What qualities would tell you that someone was wise? How would you distinguish wisdom from eloquence, or sophistication, or compassion?"

    No, I'm afraid I have never met someone wise, not even a know-it-all but I may have read about one of them. Maybe someone else would have thought those people I did meet would be wise or a know-it-all. It's all a matter of perspective, isn't it? I don't think I could identify someone wise when meeting for the first time. It doesn't show. As you say, I would need to know quite a lot about a person before I could make such a judgement. As for me, being wise is not like being educated, nor eloquent, sophisticated or compassionate. I would even exclude the latter from the qualities a wise person necessarily has. Yet humility seems to be such a necessary quality. So what is a wise person for me?

    As you said, being wise does not only include knowledge, experience, a proper sense of judgement, which, to my mind, includes an awareness of one's own limits, i.e. admitting "I don't know", but it also has to do with acting, with taking the right decisions at the right time. To exemplify this, I have certainly met who I would consider to be highly educated people, yet it would never have occurred to me that they were wise. Sometimes it turned out to be the contrary because their decisions ran counter to their knowledge and expertise. A wise person would be flexible, would not necessarily act on principles. I'd like to introduce emotional intelligence here. Maybe you meant that when referring to that dinner guest. You called it poor judgement. Perhaps we mean the same thing.

    In other words, a person does not seem to be wise if they are evidently unable to cope with life, are effectively hindered by their own aspirations, expectations and principles however justified and honourable these may be. Being wise is most certainly not an innate quality or natural ability but is based on experience and knowledge. In a nutshell, being wise is not just an intellectual and moral quality but takes a very practical approach to life as well. Emotional intelligence and taking the right decisions (deeds) are critical.
     
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  24. Bobby Cole

    Bobby Cole Veteran Member
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    Well written, well expressed, and well received.....brilliant!
    Welcome to our little family @Thomas Stearn!
     
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  25. Shirley Martin

    Shirley Martin Veteran Member
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    Some of the wisest words I ever heard are, "If in doubt, don't". There is a also a saying that, "He who hesitates is lost." I think more things have been lost by going off half cocked than by taking time to think it over. Considering that, wisdom is taking time to learn the facts in any situation and making a decision based on those facts. Pretty much what @Gloria Mitchell said in post # 12.
     
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