Wisdom is a word that is much celebrated. For those who are patrons of ivory tower knowledge, it is indicative of attainment of a peak in the universe of knowledge. For those who consider formal acquisition of knowledge not as a dire necessity, wisdom is just born out a pragmatic consideration of the knowledge of events, actions and decisions from time to time, oftentimes spontaneously, without seeking any special celebrity status.
Many have questions haunting their mind –
a. Do we become wiser as we grow in age?
b. Do we become wiser as we learn more?
c. Do we become wiser as we gather more experience?
d. Do we become wiser as we face more challenges and ordeals in life?
e. Do we become wiser as our social interactions increase?
For Hebrews, wisdom was a pragmatic, empirical thing not speculative or philosophical.
For Babylonians, the term used for wisdom was nemequ. And several adjectives were used for wise as enqu, mudu, hassu, and etpsue. They were used more in a pragmatic sense rather than a philosophical sense or to demonstrate a moral content.
Francis Hutcheson, the Scottish philosopher, who authored the book ‘The system of Moral philosophy’ considered wisdom ‘as pursuing the best ends by the best means.’
“Wisdom is the health of mind and heart” says the 20th century dictionary Larousee. It takes another step to define wisdom as “Treating things as what they are and using them in accordance with the circumstances.”
The Polish encyclopaedia (Mala encyclopaedia) defines wisdom in the following words. “Wisdom (Sophia) is an understanding of existence and its principles and at the same time knowledge about the ways of achieving such understanding involving the facility to distinguish fact from illusion, good from bad, beauty from ugliness. A virtue by whose means man is able to exist in truth.”
The German Dictionary (Worterbuch Der Philosophischen Bergriffe) explains “Wisdom (weisheit) is a measure of theoretical and practical knowledge enabling us to govern our lives in the best possible, rational way. It provides insight into the appropriate ways of serving the highest goals of life and the spirit” The Berlin Wisdom Paradigm articulates wisdom as “Wisdom (Weichert) is a measure of theoretical and practical knowledge enabling us to govern our lives in the best possible, rational way. It provides insight into the appropriate ways of serving the highest goals of life and the spirit.”
The Director of Lifespan psychology, Max Plank Institute of Human Development, Berlin, Paul Bales defines wisdom as “wisdom as an expert knowledge system in the fundamental pragmatics of life permitting excellent judgment and advice involving important and uncertain matters of life.”
Thus, one could see there was some undercurrent of morality world over, while debating about wisdom, Perceptions about the soul of wisdom has always been different. In most cases, such definitions were limited by a conflict arising out of personal and social perceptions caricatured by legacy, heritage, geography and the thirst for intellectual supremacy. The yin-yang approach to wisdom claims “Wisdom is founded upon knowledge, but part of the physics of wisdom is shaped by uncertainty.” In an attempt to give wisdom its holistic perspective, this theory adds a new colour and dimension to it by stating “ Action is important when you deal with wisdom, but so is the inaction” Interestingly, the uncertainty associated with the emergence and sustainability of wisdom has been the nucleus of debate with many an inquisitive mind, the world over. Possibly this uncertainty would continue so long as knowledge is perceived by mind, in its unique way coloured by one’s own personal experiences, both intellectual and emotional. Robert Brown, Professor and Chair of History at the University of North Carolina considers “Wisdom is a term used to denote markedly successful problem solving ability, particularly in personal and social domains, in the face of complexity, subtlety, novelty, and /or uncertainty “ This brings a mild paradigm shift in explaining wisdom as a dynamic concept taking it beyond a static state.
Robert Sternberg (former president of American Psychological Association) states “Wisdom is defined as the application of successful intelligence and creativity as mediated by values toward the achievement of a common good through a balance among (a) intrapersonal (b) interpersonal and © extra personal interests over (a) short and (b) long terms, in order to achieve a balance among adaptation to existing environments (b) shaping of existing environments, and © selection of new environments” This interesting definition embodies in it three important words – intelligence, creativity and values. One could see not only interplay of all the above, but a harmonious intercourse of them to provide a balance between systems, environments, practices that lead to a common good. In his article “Wisdom- its nature, origin and development” he details the qualities associated with wisdom as under:
1. A clear-eyed view of human nature and human predicament
2. Emotional resiliency and the ability to cope in the face of adversity
3. An openness to other possibilities
4. Forgiveness, humility
5. A Knack of learning from lifetime experiences
Thus, wisdom is considered as “the highest level of potential or achievement that a human mind might be able to achieve”
In line with the above, one could also see a similar spirit latent in the definition of wisdom Paul Baltes, the Director of Life span psychology, Max Plank’s institute of Human Development, Berlin “We define wisdom as an expert knowledge system in the fundamental pragmatics of life permitting excellent judgment and advice involving important and uncertain matters of life.” This belief goes with the idea that wisdom goes beyond the knowledge domains reaching out to action and judgments involved in taking decisions associated with the actions. The universe of wisdom, thus large enough embracing several dimensions in its operational platform. Some elements considered as central are:
• Good judgment
• Shrewd advice
• Psychological insight
• Emotional regulation
• Empathetic understanding
Ballets and Staudinger try to put this in a proper perspective in the following words: “Wisdom is a term used to denote markedly successful problem-solving ability, particularly in personal and social domains, in the face of complexity, subtlety, novelty, and /or uncertainty.”
The Psycho-dynamic theories dealing with wisdom try to encapsulate the idea of wisdom in the following words: “Wisdom is a result of mature personality development - Integration of cognitive, affective, reflective and social characteristics”
This leaves us with a question: Do we have a wise mind? Probably one would get an answer from the following words of wisdom: “Everyone has the wise mind. Some of you may not have found it yet. But it is important that you learn to find a place of calmness inside you, to let go the intense emotions, so that you can sense the wisdom in you. Some of you will experience the wise mind after a crisis. It is like a clam after the storm. Sometime you may suddenly see something in a new way that makes sense to you. Sometimes you may ‘feel” the right choice in some dilemma, when the feeling comes from deep inside you.”