Having read a great book on wisdom entitled Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience by author Stephen S. Hall, one of the aspects that clearly comes across is that wisdom is elusive, in need of deliberate development (or life giving one a few Aces right from the get-go), and complex. It’s multifaceted and culturally contextual. Some young adults are surprisingly adept and putting together the big picture and seeing patterns and learning from experience, and some people in late adulthood still don’t get it and can’t see the forest for the trees. Wisdom does not come easily, but it is a glorious and sought-after state of mental, spiritual, and emotional development worth pursuing.
It has been said that “Sooner or later, life makes a philosopher out of us all.” I really think that is true. In my case, based on my native ability and some of the personality traits I possess combined with some challenges I experienced in life, as one person said, “Socrates saved me.” I spent a lot of time and energy studying, compiling quotations from the wise, and thinking; to a large extent I enjoy the philosophical life, a.k.a., the contemplative life. Also one of skeptical thinking, careful consideration of details, and integrating various parts of the self. Aristotle believed this leads to a life of flourishing, and I tend to agree.
“Our ability to spin gold from the dross of our experience means that we often find ourselves flourishing in circumstances we once dreaded. We fear divorces, natural disasters and financial hardships until they happen, at which point we recognize them as opportunities to reinvent ourselves, to bond with our neighbors and to transcend the spiritual poverty of material excess. When the going gets tough, the mind gets going on a hunt for silver linings, and most linings are sufficiently variegated to reward the mind’s quest.”
To think instead of floundering with nameless emotion, that to me is wisdom.
Scholar Daniel N. Robinson adds this wisdom to the mix: "The right kind of life finds us committing ourselves and our rational powers to what is worth thinking about. Given a choice between contemplating issues of philosophical consequence and contemplating changes in the stock market, a more flourishing life is lived by those who contemplate the former rather than the latter."
In this quote, Hall uses the phrase that led to this blog: wisdom does not come easily: “If there is a truism that crosses all cultures, from the jen of Confucius to the loving-kindness of Jesus, it is that wisdom does not come easily. To paraphrase Shakespeare’s famous maxim, some of us (a very few) are born wise, some become wise, and some have wisdom thrust upon them. Unlike greatness, however, the demand for wisdom is thrust upon us on a daily basis, in matters momentous and mundane, in settings as private as the bedroom or as public as a jury room.” ~ Stephen S. Hall
I believe the pursuit of wisdom is worth it, though. Have you heard the saying “Life is hard, but it’s harder if you’re stupid”? There are so many people in modern America who get involved in drugs, cheat on spouses, stay in unsatisfying jobs, drop out of school, continually think Republicans are going to help them when they get elected to office, tailgate, fail to save money, vote against union membership, worship a deity they have never even seen, and watch much more television than they do read classic novels. Those are examples of making life harder than it really needs to be.
Greek playwright Euripides wrote that “To the fool, he who speaks wisdom will sound foolish.”
The solution to most personal and national problems: pursue and glorify wisdom. Deepen up. See what life is trying to teach you.
“[W]isdom is too big, too diffuse, and too mysterious for such easy capture; it builds out of what Emerson called “secret currents of might and mind.” Even though those currents bear us to a single and inescapable destination in death, just as every river eventually finds the sea, we get there by an infinite number of different paths created by distinctly unique lives.” ~ Stephen S. Hall
Modern philosopher Massimo Pigliucci asks and answers five important philosophical questions in this small book. I’m sure it will be worth your time if you’re a philosophical newbie.
Wisdom does not come easily, but it never arrives in the hearts and minds of those who never look for it.
Copthorne Macdonald said “We, and the world, need wisdom-based analyses of our problems followed by wisdom-based action.” We both think it starts with the self. Indeed, Socrates said, “He who would move the world must first move himself.”
There are over 2,500 quotations about wisdom in The Wisdom Archive. It’s awesome, and it’s free. Go get after it!
My 2017 book about values and ethics won an award; sometimes it helps to have a physical book to hold. Wisdom for under $20, can’t beat it!