Judging by what we see on TV commercials, our choice of soft drink, underarm deodorant, or shampoo is among the most important of life’s questions. But isn’t getting along with others more important than a clean head of hair? Why is it that none of the many talk shows discuss the value of wisdom? In many countries of the world we see governments mired in divisive politics preventing meaningful progress. Worse yet are those areas where different factions war among themselves, destroying their own country. Doesn’t this point to the need for wisdom?
This need increases each day. Unless tempered by wisdom, the dizzying speed of our technological development places man at risk. It is not only our immediate environment, but our very own planet that is in peril. Yet, in any global, national, local, or personal crisis there is always the opportunity to discover wisdom. During the cold war, for example, we found the wisdom not to destroy ourselves.
How do we become wise? According to Confucius, “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.” Now we are learning from bitter experience that our water supply is contaminated and our food supply is laced with pollutants. But if we reflect on our mistakes and learn from them, we gain the wisdom to protect life. Technology or science organizes knowledge. Wisdom organizes life.
Wisdom is a precious gem with a thousand sparkling facets. Each facet reflects a ray of light which helps to illuminate our path through life. Six of the rays are explained in the following paragraphs.
The ray of satisfaction. A wise man doesn’t remain on a treadmill chasing an endless stream of possessions. He gets off the treadmill and takes time to enjoy what he already has. He seeks only those possessions that are necessary to sustain and fulfill him. How will those who are surrounded by countless goods find the time to enjoy and reconnect with nature? Those who are not enlightened are dissatisfied and complain to everyone. But those who are wise are thankful for what they have.
The ray of Learning. “Who is wise? One who learns from all.” (The Talmud) How do we learn from all? By listening. As Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, “It is the province of knowledge to speak, and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen.” And when we do speak, we ask questions. For curiosity and questions lead to wisdom. The wise man who knows a thousand things, will ask the man who knows one. We may not always like what we hear. But better to learn from criticism than to be deceived by praise. Although the wise welcome criticism, they avoid offering it to others because they realize that profiting from good advice needs more wisdom than giving it. Proper listening, doesn’t imply that we ignore skepticism or doubt. For to accept everything we hear is gullibility, not wisdom. That’s why the Chinese proverb says, “Deep doubts, deep wisdom; small doubts, little wisdom.”
The ray of action. People of wisdom are people of action. For of what value is knowledge that is not understood and used? Don’t commit knowledge to memory, commit it to life. Read how Ralph Waldo Emerson describes the link between action and wisdom: “Raphael paints wisdom; Handel sings it, Phidias carves it, Shakespeare writes it, Wren builds it, Columbus sails it, Luther preaches it, Washington arms it, Watt mechanizes it.” Wisdom is knowing what to do next and doing it. Wisdom is not about doing EVERYTHING, but about doing what is best. Lin Yu-t’ang explains: “Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of nonessentials.”
The ray of living in the present. Consider the profound words of this ancient Sanskrit poem. “Look to this day, for it is life! The very life of Life. In its brief course lie all the realities and truths of existence: the joy of growth, the splendor of action, the glory of power. For yesterday is but a memory, And tomorrow is only a vision; but today well lived makes every yesterday a memory of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope. Look well, therefore, to this day!”
Also consider the words of American Christian author, Helen Mellincost, “I was regretting the past and fearing the future. Suddenly God was speaking: “My name is I am.” I waited and God continued: “When you live in the past, with its mistakes and regrets, it is hard. I am not there. My name is not I was. When you live in the future, with its problems and fears, it is hard. I am not there. My name is not I will be. When you live in this moment, it is not hard. I am here. My name is I am.”
The ray of awareness. Immediately on awakening, we should be aware of the unlimited potential that greets us. Anything is possible. We can make new friends, overcome problems, and perform new tasks. That the day is full of potential is something we can be certain of, so let’s embrace it and anticipate the joy it will bring. It is also helpful to be aware of what we are. And what is that? We are shadows that will quickly pass. If we keep this image in our awareness, it will help us understand how absurd it is to hold grudges, harbor resentment, or take offense at the actions of others. For they too are shadows. In the big picture, there is no room for petty thinking, trivial concerns, or inconsequential musings. Focus on the real and ignore the ramblings and idle chatter of an overworking imagination.
The ray of open-mindedness and big-heartedness. Prejudice, unwillingness to learn, and preconceptions slam shut the doors of the mind, preventing the growth of wisdom. Understanding that there are other points of view is the beginning of wisdom. For as Cullen Hightower says, “Wisdom is what’s left after we’ve run out of personal opinions.”
According to Dr. William Menninger, wisdom is one of the six essential ingredients of happiness (the other five are sincerity, integrity, humility, courtesy, and charity). That is reason enough to pursue it. Another reason is our children. For if we don’t have wisdom, all we can teach them is ignorance, so let the voice of wisdom be our own. Parents, when dealing with our children, let’s recall the advice of William James, “The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” And let us also remember to speak to everyone we meet with tender words; after all, later we may have to eat them!
Are You Wise or Otherwise?
The title for this section is a variation of “Some are wise and some are otherwise,” which appeared in James Howell‘s Proverbs, published in 1659. Enough about that, but how about you? Are you wise or otherwise?
Well, we all have the potential for wisdom. The more we think like the wise, the wiser we will become. Here is a list of thoughts, quotations, aphorisms, and sayings, all of which exude wisdom. The range of topics and number of teachings are no more than a drop in the vast ocean of wisdom; nevertheless, there is enough inspiration to get us started in the right direction. Besides, all it takes is one good idea to change lives.
1. Wise people became that way by asking questions. After all, “He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.”(Chinese proverb) Albert Einstein concurs for he said, “The important thing is to never stop questioning.”
And Naguib Mahfouz adds, “You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.”
On a personal level, we unleash our potential by asking ourselves questions such as, “What do I want to be do or have? Why do I want that? If I get what I want, will it help or hinder me? If it is helpful and I want it, why don’t I already have it? What is blocking me from reaching my goal? How can I overcome the obstacles in my path? What steps should I take? What should be my first step? When will I take this step? Why not sooner?” The wise use questions to make progress, find solutions, and discover new opportunities.
On a social level, questions are equally important. Jim Rohn explains: “You must constantly ask yourself these questions: Who am I around? What are they doing to me? What have they got me reading? What have they got me saying? Where do they have me going? What do they have me thinking? And most important, what do they have me becoming? Then ask yourself the big question: Is that okay? Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change.”
2. Wise people know what they are not.
YOU ARE NOT…
You are not a bag of genes.
You are not a bundle of conditioned reflexes.
You are not a two-legged animal with an overgrown intellect.
You are not your car, your job, your clothes, income, house, watch, or savings account.
You are not a large blob of hormones.
You are not a slave of brain chemicals.
You are not a cluster of instincts.
You are not a bucket of flaws.
You are not a puppet of television, music,video games, pop culture, or peer pressure.
You are not a self in desperate need of esteem.
You are not the end-product of events that happened when you were two.
You are not measured by the size of your salary,expense account, or stock options.
Unless you let yourself be.
(Taken from LIVEREAL)
3. Wise people are courageous. They realize that everything they want is outside their comfort zone, and they don’t allow discomfort, fear, or anxiety to prevent them from getting what they want. What good is wisdom without courage? For as Baltasar Gracian wrote, “Without courage, wisdom bears no fruit.” And Bertrand Russell adds, “To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.” Wise people are never afraid of making mistakes because they realize “The man who never makes a mistake always takes orders from one who does.” (Daisy Bates)Besides, “In the process of trial and error, Our failed attempts are meant to destroy arrogance and provoke humility.” (Master Jin Kwon)
The subject of overcoming fear is so important that it deserves more elucidation, so here are more bits of wisdom:
“He who is not every day conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
“Never fear shadows. They simply mean that there’s a light somewhere nearby.” (Ruth E. Renkel)
“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow. It only saps today of its joy.” (Leo Buscaglia)
“Fear is a habit; so is self-pity, defeat, anxiety, despair, hopelessness and resignation. You can eliminate all of these negative habits with two simple resolves: I can!! and I will!!” (Unknown)
4. Relationships. “Until you have learned to be tolerant with those who do not always agree with you; until you have cultivated the habit of saying some kind word of those whom you do not admire; until you have formed the habit of looking for the good instead of the bad there is in others, you will be neither successful nor happy.” (Napoleon Hill)
“A friend is one who knows us, but loves us anyway.” (Reputedly written by Fr. Jerome Cummings)
“To the world, you may be one person, but to one person, you just might be the world.” (Unknown)
“Fear makes strangers of people who would be friends.” (Shirley MacLaine)
5. Wisdom vs Knowledge. Wisdom is the application of knowledge. “What is the difference between knowledge and wisdom? Knowledge is gained by gathering data, whereas Wisdom is earned by going through actual life experiences.” (Master Jin Kwon) “Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.” (Unknown)
6. Happiness. “We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us really happy is something to be enthusiastic about.” (Charles Kingsley) “Happiness doesn’t depend on what we have, but it does depend on how we feel toward what we have. We can be happy with little and miserable with much.” (William Dempster Hoard) “Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.” (Dale Carnegie)
7. Random thoughts of the wise:
“He that can compose himself is wiser than he that composes books.” (Benjamin Franklin)
“Wise living consists perhaps less in acquiring good habits than in acquiring as few (bad) habits as possible”. (Eric Hoffer)
“The first step in the acquisition of wisdom is silence, the second listening, the third memory, the fourth practice, the fifth teaching others.” (Solomon Ibn Gabirol)
“Winners never quit and quitters never win.”(Vince Lombardi)
“In seeking wisdom thou art wise; in imagining that thou hast attained it—thou art a fool.”
“Every man is a damn fool for at least five minutes every day; wisdom consists in not exceeding the limit.” (Elbert Hubbard)
“Wisdom consists of the anticipation of consequences.” (Norman Cousins)
“Wise men are not always silent, but they know when to be.” (Unknown)
“Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.” (Doug Larson)
“Kindness is more important than wisdom, and the recognition of this is the beginning of wisdom.” (Theodore Rubin)
“Wisdom is knowing what to do next; virtue is doing it.” (David Starr Jordan)
“He is wise that can make a friend of a foe.” (John Ray)
“Freedom is not overcoming what you think stands in your way. It is understanding that what is in your way is part of the way.”(Guy Finley)
“Live every day like it’s your last cause one day you’re gonna be right.” (Ray Charles)
“Learn as if you were going to live forever. Live as if you were going to die tomorrow.” (Mahatma Gandhi)
“Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strength. When you go through hardship and decide not to surrender, that is strength.” (Arnold Schwarzenegger)
“Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.” (Henry Ford)
You live longer once you realize that any time spent being unhappy is wasted.
(Ruth E. Renkel)
“The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long to begin it.” (Unknown)
“Do something every day that you don’t want to do; this is the golden rule for acquiring the habit of doing your duty without pain.” (Mark Twain)
“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” (William James)
“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.” (Jim Rohn)
“If you want to know your past − look into your present conditions. If you want to know your future – look into your present actions.” (Chinese Proverb)
“Wisdom may be summed up in four words: to know, to will, to love, and to do what is true, good, beautiful, and just.”(Eliphas Levi)
THE MYSTIC MASTERS SPEAK: A Treasury of Cosmic Wisdom by Vernon Linwood Howard