Wisdom is the practice of developing knowledge and using that knowledge effectively to solve problems. Wisdom is related to intelligence, but is slightly different.
Being smart is not the same as being wise. Wisdom comes from making an effort to learn deeply about yourself and the world. Wise people challenge and question their beliefs. They are also open-minded to the possibility that they are wrong.
A person who is strong in wisdom is keen to learn about the world. What drives them is a deep desire to understand.
Practical wisdom is our ability to figure out what we want to achieve and then to find the best way of achieving it.
Chaerephon, a well-known citizen in ancient Athens, went to visit the oracle at Delphi and asked him a simple question: Is there anyone wiser than the philosopher Socrates? The oracle replied no, that there was not.
2,400 years ago, a curious man was sentenced to death in Athens, because he asked too many questions. He was a philosopher and his name was Socrates.
A strange kind of character, Socrates never really fitted in. He was a bit shabby, a little ugly, and often didn’t wash! What he lacked in physical beauty he made up for in spiritual beauty. He had a great mind, utterly unique. There was no one like him. He was also very annoying. He was compared to a gadfly – a nasty fly that bites. They get at you, but without causing serious harm. Sometimes people who ask questions and challenge things are like that. Annoying, but they play a really important role, because they make us think.
In Athens, some people loved Socrates. Some thought he was dangerous. He used to mope about the marketplace in Athens questioning people on different things. Like a rapier, Socrates cut to the core. He could expose people who thought they knew things, very quickly revealing their falsity and highlighting their ignorance.
He would ask people questions about morality and virtues. He might ask a soldier if he knew what courage was. Or a politician about the right way to rule. Those he questioned would start out certain, but in no time were left confused. Socrates realised that people base their lives on unexamined assumptions, which, when brought into the light of day, make little sense. His questioning troubled and humbled people. It was far better to realise, Socrates asserted, that you didn’t understand than to continue to think you do, when you don’t.
Wisdom, is, according to Socrates, a human virtue, that can only be gained by the hard work of experience. It is arrived at through active experimentation. We try things and make mistakes. We reflect on our experiences and try to learn from them.
A good place to start cultivating wisdom is to start asking more questions. With questions we are trying to go deeper in our understanding of something. Try brainstorm as many different questions you can think of. Make a list and keep it somewhere you can return to. It might be a question about yourself and how you think. It could be questions about other people in your life. Or it could be a question about the world around you.
The key is to follow what you are naturally curious about. Each day see if you can ask one new question from your list of questions. Record any insights you gain, or any understandings that come to you.
What do I want to do with my life? What goals would I like to achieve? What is the best way to achieve this? What is one step I can take this week to start moving towards what I really want?