Friday, March 11, 2005

Defining Wisdom

The Big W word, Wisdom, is a word not really used so much these days by anyone except self-help gurus trying to sell books and workshops to stressed-out, multi-tasking type A types.

According to the schlepping gurus and even the definition of the word itself, we might first connote wisdom with "the wisdom of the ancients," as if it were something old-fashioned and already solved - relegated to the distant past and not really so relevant to our oh so modern go-go lives - haven't got time for the higher plane.

But especially because our lives tend to be in our faces rather than out on some far horizon, I'd have to say, wisdom is one of those words and concepts that deserves more modern usage. It might seem like a sleeper, but whether you and the human race are paying it much heed or not, it'll be the essential ingredient that identifies, defines and motivates our saving graces - and I do mean saving, not just as in survival but in helping us raise the quality of our lives. And isn't that what we want - quality lives?

The American Heritage Dictionary defines wisdom thusly:

n., 1. Understanding of what is true, right, or lasting; insight. 2. Common sesne; good judgement. 3.a. The sum of scholarly learning through the ages; knowledge. b. Wise teachings of the ancient sages. 4. A wise outlook, plan, or course of action.

Some years back, I came up with a definition of wisdom which may seem slightly more homely, but I do remain pretty proud of it:

Wisdom is that awareness which does the most good for the most people for the longest period of time.

And of course, generally wisdom is really not much good without action, and so to act according to my definition above, is, I would say, acting wisely.

Thus, what do we need to act more wisely than so many of us currently are?

The most good: far-ranging altruism and cooperation

The most people: a "bigger picture" (truly global) world view

The longest period of time: become better able to predict the long range course of consequences.

I think this definition can work, though, in any given situation, large or small, global or up close and personal.

I'd be happy to hear of alternate definitions, relevant quotations and your thoughts.



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