With T-minus 7 days till graduation, if you’re like me, you’re reflecting on what to do with this newfound freedom. If you haven’t discovered it already, you will soon find that with no responsibilities, there is no meaning in procrastination anymore, and/or that binge-watching TV leaves you feeling immensely unfulfilled. Even books, exercise, music, and normally good things don’t feel like enough – you feel like you need to do and make something.
I don’t have all the answers, but I know where to look – firstly to the great minds of the past, and secondly, within yourself. I can’t really help with the latter, but let’s begin probing at the former together in this post. Since the class character for the Senior Class of 2016 means ‘wisdom’, and since it’s very relevant to living a meaningful life, that is what today’s post will be focused on.
Starting with the Greek philosophers, Aristotle and Socrates, they say that “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom”, and, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing”, respectively.
Wait, what? How can we know ourselves and know that we know nothing at the same time? Their definitions conflict. Perhaps we can’t know anything outside of ourselves – that is the only thing we have control over. And sometimes we don’t even have control over that – mood swings, guilty pleasures, impulse buys. Knowing ourself is the beginning, and only the beginning, but there is no ‘end’ to this process. Therefore, since the acquisition of wisdom is never-ending, eventually we must acknowledge that we “know nothing” once we have continued in this path for long enough.
How do we get it anyway? Confucius provides an answer less vague than the two aforementioned philosophers: “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”
Being the Tolkien buff that I am, I couldn’t write this without going through “The Lord of the Rings” and finding the best quotations in it concerning wisdom. Here they are:
- “Even the very wise cannot see all ends.”
- “Elves seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill.”
- “Where there are so many, all speech becomes a debate without end. But two together may perhaps find wisdom.”
- “The wise speak only of what they know.”
Wisdom is not necessarily the state of being omnipotent, but it is speaking selectively, and not giving “unguarded advice”.
Turning to our trusty Merriam-Webster dictionary:
1a : accumulated philosophic or scientific learning : knowledge b : ability to discern inner qualities and relationships : insight c : good sense : judgment d : generally accepted belief
2: a wise attitude, belief, or course of action
3: the teachings of the ancient wise men
According to this, wisdom is not only book knowledge and belief, it is also action and what we do with what we know. A textbook could never be called wise, because it does not put its information to use – that’s for us to do.
I’ve also read that it is the act of acquiring wisdom and being open to receiving wisdom from others which makes one wise, not the store of wisdom in a person itself. So a child could be wise if they choose to take what their elders have to say with a grain of salt, but be open to it nonetheless.
The “teachings of the ancient wise men” are definitely important, which is why that’s where I started in this thought process. But we’re only scratching the surface here. I think that someone who is wise is continuously learning, not only from what has been said and taught in the past, but by being alert and diligent in the moment. A wise man (or woman) can learn from anyone, even a fool. Through others, we can see human fallacy and our own shortcomings.
What are we? Homo sapiens. That translates to “wise person”. That’s what we’re meant to be. My outlook on what it means to be wise will most likely change over the years, because that is the definition of growth, which is what it means to be alive. But this is what I have for you now. ~Gloria
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Proverbs 1:7