There’s the story in the bible where God asked King Solomon to request anything he wanted. He could choose fame, fortune, invincibility, courage but he didn’t ask for anything ego centric or self-serving. He asked for wisdom so he could make fair and just decisions for his people.
The word wisdom appears again in the Serenity Prayer. “God grant me the serenity to except the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” There is a distinction about the word wisdom, something profound about having the wisdom to know the difference.
The common understanding or definition of wisdom is that there is a knowledge of what is correct and reasonable, or it could be good sense or judgement. It feels to me that this general explanation of wisdom lacks the depth and richness I feel in Solomon’s request and the Serenity Prayer. Psychologists tend to agree that wisdom involves not only an integration of knowledge, but more so experience, depth of understanding, as well as a tolerance and openness toward the uncertainties of life.
The ancient philosophers who arose during classical antiquity, from Aristotle to Xeno, offered ideas and principles that still hold immense value today. Etymologically, a philosopher is a lover of wisdom, one that does not attach to thoughts and beliefs but rather wholeheartedly commits to living well and wise.
The concept of wisdom can feel nebulous to some degree; there are a multitude of lists identifying the characteristics of wisdom and what living wisely consists of. I’ll share some qualities about the essence of wisdom. It’s certainly not an exhaustive list, but it gives us something to consider.
Wise people self-reflect, remaining curious about self and others. They are deliberate and thoughtful in their approach to life, nonjudgmental, exhibit a keen sense of discernment, and value the ability to consider many angles over hanging onto a myopic view. A wise person exhibits epistemic humility, patience, independence of thought, contemplating every situation to derive their own answers rather than accepting the answers of someone else. Wisdom recognizes the possibility of self-deception, mindset interception and willingness to learn from experiences. Wisdom looks like mental flexibility with a capacity to change mind and ability to tolerate paradox and contradiction. Wisdom is tuned into an existential dimension; oriented beyond one’s own personal gain, pleasure or survival.
I’ve selected several “living wisely” principles from a few of the finest “wise guys” in history.
Expand your Horizons
“Look at the stars lighting up the sky: not one of them stays in the same place.”
Stepping out of comfort zones and beyond our local boundaries can expand our mind and life experience. This can refer to physical or geographical location but also expansion can refer to living beyond the limits we create in our minds and lives. The further you go, the more you will gain.
Know What You Control
“You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” -Marcus Aurelius
A thought pattern creates a mental circuit in our brain, when repeated; it becomes a subconscious behavioral pattern that begins to shape our experiences. We can find strength in focusing our mind and energy toward what we can control instead of being overcome by what we cannot control.
“Friendship improves happiness and abates misery, by the doubling of our joy and the dividing of our grief.” —Cicero
The definition of friendship is a state of mutual trust and when we open up our hearts to another this brings well-being.
“I begin to speak only when I'm certain what I'll say isn't better left unsaid.”
-Cato the Younger
It’s easy to get angry with someone yet, it takes a deep level of compassion and understanding to share kindness with others, especially toward those who you’ve decided don’t deserve it. Kindness brings harmony to humanity and is a wise way to approach hostilities.
“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who couldn't hear the music." - Friedrich Nietzsche
Human beings have a deep seated fear of rejection and it can have a far-reaching impact on our lives. The fear of being alone can activate our brain into survival mode and create hesitation or inability to be ourselves, to embrace who we are for fear of not being liked. The greatest discoveries in history came from those who marched to their own beat, many times being rejected along the way.
This Life is Yours
“For a man to conquer himself is the first and noblest of all victories.” –Plato
When we take responsibility for our lives we become the master of our fate.
... And in the wise words of Socrates:
“True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.”
Embracing ancient wisdom and unfolding wisdom,