Why Wisdom Matters – Part 1

Posted by on Mar 4, 2013 in Humanity, Our Future | 0 comments

Why Wisdom Matters – Part 1

For this week and next week’s blogs, I am sharing my thoughts on the importance of Wisdom, both in our personal lives and collectively in our societies and for our shared future, and in regard to my own efforts to promote and enable wisdom in my ‘futures’ work over the past decade.

There will be two parts. Part 1 focuses on what Wisdom actually is in my view, while Part 2 focuses on the various projects I have initiated to promote Wisdom in the World, beginning in 2003. It has very much been a personal journey to practice wisdom in my own life and promote it collectively. Like most personal journey’s it’s an ongoing one.

To begin, I view Wisdom as both a primary Universal Value as old as our civilization’s themselves, and as a very elusive goal in our personal lives and in our societies to date. Although there have been very many wise individuals in key leadership positions throughout our history, by and large, wisdom has eluded humanity collectively to date. That’s not a very controversial view as it is pretty much self evident. However I also believe that the leader’s of today’s world are among the most unwise individuals humanity has ever produced and empowered.

If one agrees with my view that the increase of wisdom would be a major sign of the long-awaited maturation of humanity, I fear that in modern times it’s been very much a case of “one step forward, two steps back” to date.

The concept of “Wisdom” has many definitions and means different things to different people and cultures. However, there are elements that appear to be universally agreed upon.

Wikipedia generally defines Wisdom as: “The judicious application of knowledge. It is a deep understanding and realization of people, things, events or situations, resulting in the ability to apply perceptions, judgments and actions in keeping with this understanding. It often requires control of one’s emotional reactions so that universal principles, reason and knowledge prevail to determine one’s actions. Wisdom is also the comprehension of what is true coupled with optimum judgment as to action.”

Key value concepts that make up Wisdom from this general description are accordingly: Knowledge, Judgment, Understanding, Universal Principles, Reason and Truth. And further that all these values are utilized to determine one’s actions in the world. While of course we now call ourselves as a species, Homo sapiens, where sapiens means “wise” taken from the Latin verb sapere which means “to taste, to be wise, to know”.

Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus, who in the 18th Century created the nomenclature for biological species, gave humanity our species name. He decided that the dominating feature of humans was wisdom, hence application of the name sapiens, which was intended to emphasize man’s uniqueness and separation from the rest of the animal kingdom.

The concept of Wisdom is as old as our civilizations and religious traditions – indigenous, western and eastern. The following is an overview.

In Mesopotamian religion and mythology, Enki, was the God of wisdom and intelligence. Wisdom was achieved by restoring balance.

The word Wisdom is mentioned 222 times in the Hebrew Bible. It was regarded as one of the highest virtues among the Israelites along with kindness and justice. Both the books of Proverbs and Psalms urge readers to obtain and to increase in wisdom. Here are some of the roles that the Hebrew Bible ascribes to wisdom: Building and establishing civilization; Elevating life; Safety and avoiding misery; Exceeding the value of gold and silver; She (Wisdom) is the primal architect of creation who existed with God before the Universe was formed. And of course many people know the stories of the fabled “Wisdom of King Solomon.”

Sophia (Greek for Wisdom) is a central idea in Hellenistic Philosophy and religion, Platonism, Gnosticism, Orthodox Christianity, as well as Christian Mysticism. Sophiology is a philosophical concept regarding wisdom, as well as a theological concept regarding the wisdom of the biblical God.

According to Confucius, Wisdom can be learned by three methods: Reflection (the noblest), Imitation (the easiest) and Experience (the bitterest). Confucius also said, “Love of learning is akin to wisdom.

In Taoism, Wisdom is construed as adherence to the Three Treasure: charity, simplicity, and humility. “Knowing others is intelligence. Knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is True Power (Tao Te Ching).

Buddhist scriptures teach that a wise person is endowed with good bodily conduct, good verbal conduct, and good mental conduct. A wise person does actions that are unpleasant to do but give good results, and doesn’t do actions that are pleasant to do but give bad results. Wisdom is the antidote to the self-chosen poison of ignorance. The Buddha said: “He who arbitrates a case by force does not thereby become just but the wise man is he who carefully discriminates between right and wrong”; “He who leads others by nonviolence, righteously and equitably, is indeed a guardian of justice, wise and righteous”; “By quietude alone one does not become a sage if he is foolish and ignorant. But he who, as if holding a pair of scales, takes the good and shuns the evil, is a wise man; he is indeed a sage by that very reason. He who understands both good and evil as they really are, is called a true sage.”

In Hinduism, the God of wisdom is Lord Ganesha and knowledge is goddess Saraswati. Wisdom as per the Hindu religion is knowing oneself as the truth, basis for the entire Creation. In other words “wisdom” simply means a person with Self Awareness as the one who witnesses the Entire Creation in all its facets and forms. Further it means realization that an individual through ‘right conduct and living’ over an unspecified period comes to realize his/her true relationship with Creation and the ‘God’ who rules it.

The traditional Wisdom of indigenous peoples is a powerful element in all their cultures and very much alive today. This well-known quote of Native American Chief Seattle in 1854, is an excellent example of this broad wisdom: “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”

In sum, our numerous religious and spiritual traditions add a powerful moral and ethical component to the more modern general description of Wisdom found in Wikipedia that I have quoted above. Good and evil become very relevant and the resultant ethical actions in regard to the greater community at large are paramount.

I now summarize the following wholistic definition of Wisdom, which I suggest can have very wide application: “True ethical judgement, based upon the broadest possible understanding and knowledge, applied in all decisions and actions for the good of everyone involved in such decisions and actions.”

Thus self-serving decisions and actions based on personal ego and desires, self-interest, or special group interest can never be described as “wise”. Nor can such decisions and actions be described as ethical or moral in the eyes of the Creator or Humanity.  

This definition provides significant clarity and thus a way of measuring the value of our “societal leaders” decisions and actions however they have gotten into that position. I suggest that Wisdom, as so defined, needs to be a a constant pre-requisite for societal leadership. Otherwise “we the people” will suffer the consequences of the lack of wisdom which are more severe in their potential then at any previous time in human history. An assessment based on this Wisdom criteria of today’s political, economic and business “leader’s” would undoubtedly indicate a complete lack of any such wisdom unfortunately. And we should expect to continue to suffer the consequences of that truth even more so in future then now.

A main question before us today is therefore: Will we finally live up to our species name, Homo sapiens, through our “leaders” and in time to avert civilizational catastrophe, or not? Right now it appears the answer is a clear and loud NO! What could happen to shift the answer? Part 2 next week…

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