The young seek it and the old have had endless opportunities to acquire it. Wisdom doesn’t arrive simply because we want it. Wisdom, much like good physical fitness, takes dedication, time and an eternal desire of curiosity, as well as the ability to look fear straight in the face and try anyway.
One of my favorite free apps is TED. A website that is a place for thousands of “riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world.” Having used it in my classroom, I have also quite enjoyed it while taking long drives as I have chosen to listen to an 18 minute lecture on the topic of my current interest when I’m not in the mood for music, NPR or a book on tape.
Barry Schwartz’s topic “On the Loss of Wisdom” caused me to contemplate the idea of how we each can gain wisdom – no matter who we are, no matter where we grew up and no matter how much schooling we have engaged in, wisdom is something we all can acquire.
In every facet of our lives, wisdom can be beneficial – how to make a pie, how to communicate respectfully with our partner, how to drive a car in extremely bad weather, how to navigate in a particular city, how to pass the LSAT, how to deal with death, how to live our best life. The list is endless, and the opportunities to gain wisdom never cease so long as we continue to look for lessons along the way.
The combination is simple, Aristotle reminds us that “Practical wisdom is the combination of moral will and moral skill.” In other words, knowing when to break the rules for the right reasons. Ultimately wisdom is about having a strong moral compass, trusting it after years of honing it and letting it guide us.
Barry Schwartz: “A wise person is made, not born. Wisdom depends on experience and not just any experience. You need the time to get to know the people that you are serving, you need permission to be allowed to improvise, to try new things, occasionally to fail and to learn from your failures. And you need to be mentored by wise teachers.”
Common sense or common wisdom, therefore, isn’t an innate ability. It is an ability that is crafted when the individual takes the time to be observant, process what was observed and learn from the experience, whether they were the one involved or simply an onlooker. The simple exercise occurs repeatedly throughout our lives, and it is up to us to work the muscle of observation, analysis and application.
However, if we choose to blindly go through life, letting the rules that society has made (due to others’ errors or lapses in judgment), determine how we live and not come to understand why we are doing what we are doing, we are mere robots, functioning, but not thinking. Living, but not growing into our full potential.
Here’s an example of knowing the difference between blindly following the rules and knowing when to break them for a better cause. Jaywalking – some cities are sticklers, some not so much. A young child or dog runs out into the middle of a downtown street, do you allow them to dawdle and run the risk of getting hit or do you break the rules? Simple question. Simple answer, to most people with common sense that is. But in the situation of the dog, I have seen far too many people (one meeting this quota), who don’t do anything. Why? Who knows. Some may say safety, but wisdom is assessing the situation, and doing what is in the best interest of those involved. For someone who knows the street, the flow of traffic and how the drivers will respond should you venture out into the street, this decision can be quickly assessed, regardless of what the rules are.
In other words, wisdom is available if we choose to continually exercise the muscles we need to acquire it. It is a constant process, but one that will benefit us greatly each day we trek through our lives. However, it is a choice and one that is too often tossed aside or ignored. Choose wisely.
Here are a few more of Barry Schwartz’s quotes that I think you may enjoy:
“A wise person knows when and how to make the exception to every rule.” – Barry Schwartz
“A wise person knows how to improvise.”
“A wise person is like a jazz musician, using the notes on the page, but dancing around them, inventing combinations that are appropriate for the situation and the people at hand.”
“A wise person knows how to use these moral skills in pursuit of the right aims. To serve other people, not to manipulate other people.”