Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Applying Wisdom To Your Life

July 31, 2006

What does it take to be wise?

Knowledge. Wisdom takes a certain amount of knowledge and mental candle power. A wise person has to be able to think, put cause and effect together, know the culture and context, identify and solve problems, learn from experience and have a healthy respect for what one doesn't know.

"Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal, and are the greater fools for it. There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool." -Spurgeon.

Wisdom deals with the practical aspects of life and life problems. A person can be wise about business or technical knowledge and still be foolish about practical living, marriage, parenting, self-discipline, and judgment about life's difficult problems. Wisdom is about the human heart, human behavior and human possibility.

Experience. Having experience without learning from it doesn't add to wisdom. Wise people profit from their mistakes and learn from the mistakes of others. Wisdom is one quality that increases throughout the life span. Wisdom has been acquired with a price. Precious truths come from the harder experiences in life and are true gold at the bottom of a lot of dross.

"What is it to be wise? -'Tis to know how little can be known - to see all other's faults and to feel our own." - Pope

Humility. Wise people are not too confident in their knowing. They ask good questions. They know the complexity of life and the relationships between the parts and the whole. Context is important. They seek all options and viewpoints. Wise people are open-minded and open to change. If they learn something new, they are not afraid to doubt what they already know.

Wise people are cautious but not paralyzed. They know life is uncertain and that many solutions are not easy. Yet people are known to be wise precisely because they do make good judgments about uncertain and difficult problems.

Selflessness. Wise people detach themselves from their own egos, goals, and emotions. Wise people have dealt with their own fears and anger. They understand and accept themselves. They are at peace. They are free from their own selfish interests and self-importance.

Having emotional control and tolerance for oneself leads to greater tolerance for others' feelings, intentions, values, and thoughts. Each person is appreciated for his or her own unique history, personality, and cultural background. Advice isn't wisdom unless it is based on a deep understanding of the person seeking it.

Social skills. Wise people are skilled in interpersonal relations and communications. They have become wise by engaging in dialogue. They are skillful at sharing their wisdom with others. Wise people listen well, empathize, and care about the well-being of others. They are patient, understanding, and accepting. Advice is given within the context of the wisdom-seeker's values and perspectives.

Advice is given when it is sought. When it is given, it is given in indirect, soft ways that do not challenge the integrity and worth of the seeker. Wise people are excellent teachers. They are sensitive, discrete, and unobtrusive in their counsel. They respect the right of others to choose for themselves.

Values. Above all, wisdom is an evaluation of human behavior. A wise person comes to appreciate enduring universal truths and purposes. He or she has delved into life's deeper questions: life and death, good and evil, justice and injustice, truth and falsehood. A wise person has a spiritual perspective or understanding of life and gauges human behavior against that perspective.

"To learn what is true in order to do what is right is the summing up of the whole duty of man." -Thomas Henry Huxley.

Wise people come to a conclusion about what is good or bad. They judge the important from the unimportant. Part of their judging is having a sense of what is true. They offer a compelling guide for action - sound advice on how life should be lived. They point out dangers as well as the opportunities for growth and happiness.

"A wise man is he who knows the relative value of things." - William Ralph Inge.

Integrity. Wise people have excellent character. They live up to the truths they know. A hypocrite is a fool - not wise. Wise people are moral. They have learned the importance of honesty with self and others. Wise people are good. Virtue isn't measured by extraordinary actions, but by daily acts of love and service. Wisdom and goodness go together.

"All is vanity which is not honest, and there is no solid wisdom without piety." - John Evelyn.

Wise people live by convictions and control their emotions and impulses. President Clinton may be smart but he hasn't been wise. A wise person is not reckless or undisciplined. King Solomon was wise as long as he was good.

"He who learns the rules of wisdom without conforming to them in his life is like a man who plows in his field but does not sow." - Saadi.

What does it take to be wise? To have wisdom is to have a high degree of social and spiritual understanding about life. Wise people manage their own lives with integrity, compassion and goodness and are skillful in human relationships.