"We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are," the American businessman and writer Max de Pree once said. Past experiences teach us who we are, and what we stand for and amidst foolishness growing like weeds, we sometimes find a little flower called wisdom – seldom celebrated and often ignored or neglected. We like to flag knowledge, experiences, skills and status to the world around us and accessing and acquiring knowledge has never been easier but has all this knowledge made us any wiser? Has it given us a different perceptive, does it allow us to take decisions with the awareness that concern not only ourselves but also those around us?
Wisdom is the ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, common sense and good judgment. It is a matter of maturity rather than a taught skill, but a different type of maturity than what comes with age. It is about doing what is right. In some instances this represents the opposite of what is perceived acceptable or commonly accepted norms and standards. Prevailing standards do not necessarily reflect right or wrong. Apartheid was once a societal standard but was it right? Of course not and it took a wise man like Nelson Mandela to end it. Depriving women the right to vote also used to be a societal norm.
False knowledge does not make us wise – it may cloud our judgment and thereby our actions. And while we often label a wise decision rational, we should ask whom the rational serves. Wisdom is a precious treasure but it does not necessarily win support. Sometimes wisdom requires suffering and sacrifice; at times a solid portion of courage. The wise man is not necessarily the one speaking the loudest – on the contrary he might perfectly well be silent and just listen. “Wisdom grows in silent places,” Austin O’Malley said. It is not a noisy attribute.
Wisdom does also not mean popularity – on the contrary a wise man may live on the edge of or even outside societal norms and standards. He might be criticized, ridiculed and dishonored. A wise choice is not necessarily equivalent to a smart choice. A smart choice could benefit you personally but not necessarily others. By distinction, a wise choice would be one aiming at doing no harm. “What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?” Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote in Emile. These words set a standard we should all aim to complying with.