I’ve been interested in wisdom as a stretch goal. That is, if what I (and, ideally, we) do is help people become smarter, could we go further? Could we help people get wiser? Let’s be clear, I am not claiming that I am wise. Rather, thinking about what wisdom is and trying to be wise would be more accurate ;). It’s led me to look at wisdom quietly, as a background task. And, two recent articles provide a little insight about getting wiser.
The University of Chicago established the Center for Practical Wisdom, which I think is a neat idea. And I receive their newsletter. And in this latest edition were two articles which resonated. They tackle different subjects, and they’re not perfect, but there were take-home messages in each.
In the first, they talk about how wisdom can be useful in trying times like these. This quote is worthwhile:
Could the gift of COVID-19 be that we are traumatized enough that we are finally willing to make long-lasting systemic and personal changes in race relations, inequality, and other ways we deal with one another and ourselves?
And there is a list of characteristics of wise people (my abridged list):
- do not hyper-focus on the negative and all that is wrong
- are pragmatic and work constructively for positive change
- are measured
- are open and receptive
- are kind
Not a bad list, I reckon. In general. I like a closing line as well: “Evolution is mutuality.” Can we make changes?
The other talks a bit more philosophically about different approaches to life. My key quote here is:
No matter where I went on planet earth, all of the cultures I interacted with revered contentment as one of the highest states to cultivate in life.
That is, except the ‘west’. It’s claimed that we (er, the western world in general) focus on happiness, and there may be an alternative. That alternative is to aim to be ‘content’. In other words, instead of the ‘more’ strategy (acquiring more = happiness), the alternative is the ‘enough’ strategy. What’s enough to be content?
Not all’s perfect. The first recommended step is mindfulness, which is controversial. But the second, about identifying your contingencies (e.g. “when I know I can retire, then I’ll be happy”) seems relevant. Those sorts of goals can be harmful if they’ve got you on a continual treadmill doomed to dissatisfaction. The last step is to accept all emotions, and being safe to have emotions, without being controlled by them, helps.
I’m not anointing these as the end-all wisdom. Nope, they’re just part of the continual fodder that I process on my path to doing better. Yet, I do think we can be better as a society if we recognize that our approaches have alternatives and we consciously consider them. How we bake them into learning I’m still not sure, but for me it’s all part of getting wiser.