What is Wisdom?
Humanity is too clever to survive without wisdom. — E.F Schumacher
What is wisdom? We hear the word a lot these days—the need for wisdom, the wisdom traditions, wisdom schools. We each would like to have more wisdom. And for others to have it as well. Too much human hurt and suffering comes from lack of wisdom. But what is this quality that we hold in such high regard?
One way of looking at wisdom is the progression from data to information to knowledge:
- Data are the raw facts; the letters on a page, for example.
- Information comes from the patterns and structure of the data. Random letters provide little Information; but if they spell words and the words create sentences, they carry information and meaning.
- Knowledge comes from generalizations in the information. We build up understandings about the world, ourselves, and other people.
Wisdom concerns how we use our knowledge. Its essence is discernment. Discernment of right from wrong. Helpful from harmful. Truth from delusion. >
We may, for example, come to understand that deep down each of us wants to be loved and appreciated. But do we then use that knowledge to manipulate others for our own ends? Or do we use it for the benefit of all, considering how to respond to a situation in ways that are truly caring?
At present, humanity has vast amounts of knowledge, but still very little wisdom. Buckminster Fuller called this time our final evolutionary exam. Is our species fit to survive? Do we have the wisdom that will allow us to use our prodigious powers for our own good, and for that of many generations to come?
It is a common perception that wisdom comes with age. The wise ones have learned from experience that there is more to life than acquiring wealth and fame. They know that love and friendship count for more than what others think of them. They are generally kind, content in themselves. able to discern their true self-interest.
But why wait until old age? In an ideal world we would finish school not only with sufficient knowledge for the life ahead, but also with the wisdom of how to use that knowledge.
The question then naturally arises: How can we develop wisdom? It turns out that the wisdom we seek is already there, at the heart of our being. Deep inside, we know right from wrong; this discernment is an intrinsic part of being human. But the quiet voice of this inner knowing is usually obscured by our busy thinking minds, forever trying to help us get the things we believe will bring us peace and happiness and avoid those that will bring pain and suffering.
So the real question is: How to quieten the mind so that we can hear the wisdom of that quiet inner voice untainted by our fears and needs.
As many have discovered, this comes from letting go of our attachments as to how things should be, and returning to the untrammeled state of mind, to the peace and love that are our true essence.
These are the wise ones that we honor; the founders of many of world's spiritual traditions—or what today are often called the "wisdom traditions."