Issue No. 28
What is Wisdom?
Table of Contents
I. Why Important
II. Wisdom Defined
III. Elements of Wisdom
I. Why Important?
We are aware of the important difference between knowledge and wisdom. Oftentimes, so-called education only gives us knowledge, but not wisdom. We need wisdom in facing difficulties, challenges, adversities, in nurturing joy and happiness, and in the full development of our potential. We need therefore to understand what it means to be wise.
II. Wisdom Defined
Wisdom has been defined in many ways. Here are two:
- The intelligent application of learning, ability to discern inner qualities and essential relationships. - Webster's Third International Dictionary
- To see big things as big, small things as small. - Will Durant
III. The Elements of Wisdom
- To see the essentials of a thing. The unwise often misses the essence of a thing, which can result in wrong judgments or opinions. What for example is the essence of being religious or spiritual? Some may not realize that they consider rituals so important that they are in effect willing to do something unjust if a ritual is not followed.
- To discriminate between what is important and not. To give undue weight to unimportant things is clearly lack of wisdom. A parent may make so much fuss over a small error of a son resulting in the deterioration of their relationship. An aspect of this is being able to see what is fleeting and what is permanent, and not be unduly troubled by things which quickly pass away.
- To discriminate between what is right and wrong. True ethics is not dependent upon cultural differences. Kindness is right, and cruelty is wrong, regardless of the culture, country or age. The capacity to see universal values is an important foundation of true wisdom.
- To see things in relation to the whole. Small acts may look unimportant unless they are seen in relation to the whole. Example: A small white lie to a child may look trivial, but it may lead to long term distrust towards the parents on the part of the child. Small acts of self-discipline may look unimportant, yet may matter very much to the entire life of the person.
- Common Sense. Common sense means being able to see something which should be obvious. People often are unable to see the obvious due to prejudice, belief systems, insensitivity, being unobservant, etc. For example: Would someone be condemned to eternal damnation just because he or she is not a member of a particular church or religion? Common sense would tell us that there are millions of people who have never heard or encountered those religions who claim to be the exclusive path towards salvation. Will a child be condemned simply because he was born on the top of the Himalayas and never heard of Christianity?
- Self-Mastery and Self-Control. Wisdom is not just knowledge, but the capacity for right action. When a person knows that something should be done, but does not have the self-mastery to do it, indicates lack of wisdom. A person who believes that smoking is harmful but finds himself unable to stop it shows lack of wisdom. A person who knows the harmfulness of anger and yet cannot help being angry everyday shows lack of wisdom.
- Compassion and Love. Wisdom involves sensitivity to the feelings and state of others, otherwise a person is likely to err in his judgment or assessment of a situation. To understand and be sensitive involves true compassion and love, the experience of oneness or identity with the other.
- Transcendence. The apex of wisdom is the capacity to see the larger reality, of which this mundane reality is but a part. It is the awakening of true intuition and spiritual perception, which can see the first principles that should guide human life. Transcendence also means that we have overcome self-centeredness. Selfishness is a veil that blinds us from seeing reality objectively.
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