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How to be wise
June 13, 2019 Anniversary Wishes No comments

A wise person has the power of discerning and judging properly as to what is true or right. It is not that unwise people don't judge. However, their judgments are.

Elder Neil L. Andersen teaches us how to discern between God’s wisdom and the world’s wisdom.

In today’s information tidal wave, we desperately need wisdom—wisdom to sort through and discern how to apply what we are learning.

Let’s remember:

  1. We must seek after wisdom.
  2. Wisdom is multidimensional and comes in different sizes and colors.
  3. Wisdom gained early brings enormous blessings.
  4. Wisdom in one area may not be transferable to another.
  5. Wisdom of the world, while in many cases very valuable, is most valuable when it humbly bows to the wisdom of God.

The scriptures describe two types of wisdom: the wisdom of the world, and the wisdom of God. The wisdom of the world has both a positive and a negative component. In the darkest description, it could be described as a partial truth, mixed with intelligence and manipulation, to achieve selfish or evil purposes.

We need to learn that when there is conflict between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God, that we must yield our will to the wisdom of God.

There is another kind of wisdom of the world that is not nearly so sinister. In fact it is very positive. This wisdom is consciously acquired through study, reflection, observation, and hard work. It is very valuable and helpful in the things we do. To good and decent people, it comes as we experience our mortality.

More importantly, the wisdom that brings success in the world must be willing to step behind the wisdom of God and not think that it can substitute for it. The wisdom of God is wisdom with a large W.

Not all wisdom is created equal. We need to learn that when there is conflict between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God, that we must yield our will to the wisdom of God.

I suggest you take some of the issues facing you. Put a line down the middle of a paper. List the wisdom of the world on the left side and the wisdom of God on the right side. Write the issues in conflict one with another.

What choices are you making?

In section 45 of the Doctrine and Covenants, which speaks of the events leading up to the Second Coming of the Savior, the Lord again tells the story of the ten virgins and then leaves us with these words: “For they that are wise [wisdom with a large W], and have received the truth, and have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, and have not been deceived—verily I say unto you, they shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire, but shall abide the day” (D&C 45:57).

Let us seek after the wisdom of God. There is much we can learn right now about wisdom. I promise you that the Lord’s blessings will attend you as you seek for wisdom, the wisdom of God. He is so anxious to impart His wisdom to us. And if we will be obedient and prayerful and seek after it, it will come.

How do you choose God’s wisdom over the world’s wisdom? Share your experience with other youth by commenting below.

This article originally appeared in the August 2014New Era.

If you want to become a wise person, especially when it comes to money, you need to start acting like one. Here are characteristics to consider emulating.

How to Be Wise

how to be wise

You don't have to be Gandhi or Mother Theresa to think wisely. We can all tap in to that place within ourselves if we try. Being wise can save us a lot of heartache and negativity in our lives. And who wouldn't want that?

Here are 11 ways you can think like a wise person:

1. Think before you speak.

Like you haven't heard that one before! I'm sure most of our parents told us that when we were children. It's something you probably know you should do, but may find difficult. One of the principles of communication is that "Once you say it, you can't take it back." Sure, you can try. But whether the other person will believe you is another story. So before you open your mouth to say something, make sure it's something you would be proud to post everywhere on social media. If it's something you might regret later, then maybe it's better if you kept it to yourself. So, think before you speak.

2. Realize there is never a 'right time.'

"When I get a better job," or, "When I graduate," or, "When the kids are grown." These are all common statements that are probably uttered by millions of people every day. But you will always be able to rationalize why it's not the 'right time.' There is no time like the present. So, the best time to do anything is now. Take that first step toward your goal. Waiting will only make you older, not wiser.

3. Balance self-interest with the collective good.

In relationships, there should be a balance between "self" and "other." I view it as a continuum. At one end of the spectrum you have the very selfish people. At the other end you have the selfless people. And most of us are somewhere in between. Yes, you should care about your own needs. But you should also care about other people's needs too. It's a balancing act that can be achieved if you try hard enough.

4. Put things in perspective before you jump to conclusions.

It's easy to jump to conclusions, but wise people remember that if they need to jump to the right conclusions. Emotions always run high when people are upset. While it's natural to do that, problems can occur when you engage in conflict with another person before you calm down. As I said in point 1, you need to think before you speak. But if you're too caught up in your anger, you're not going to think clearly. So take some time to calm down, put everything into perspective, and then review the facts not assumptions when you can think more logically.

5. Don't blindly accept the status quo.

Just because everyone does something doesn't mean you have to. I'm sure you've all heard of the "bandwagon" effect. It's the phenomenon that occurs when people act like lemmings and blindly follow the crowd. Instead, if you want to think like a wise person, step back from the crowd and observe. Ask why they are doing this. And ask yourself if you truly want to do it - or even if it's advisable to do so. Many times it's not. Bottom line: think for yourself.

6. Keep your power - don't let other people's negativity upset you.

Wise people realize that they are always in control of their thoughts, feelings, and actions. Most people let others' behavior affect them negatively. As a result, they let that negativity permeate their lives and make them miserable. Instead, let their bad behavior roll off your shoulders. If you get angry, then they have won. Own your power and keep your happiness by not allowing them to change you for the worse.

7. Don't act impulsively - have a purpose and a goal.

Being spontaneous can be fun ... if you're going on vacation or playing hooky from work one day. (Not that I'm suggesting you do that!) But in life, acting on impulse can lead to regrets. If you don't take the time to think things through, you might create problems. Wise people use a combination of their logic and intuition to come up with the best decisions possible.

8. Accept other people for who they are.

Let's face it, most people try to change others. Why do we do that? It's really pointless. I admit there was a time in my life when I tried to change others, too. But it doesn't work! People are who they are. If you don't like them, then you have the choice to leave the relationship, spend less time with them, or change your attitude. Accept who they are. You want to be accepted for who you are, right? Well, then live by the Golden Rule and give others the same respect.

9. The cover may be pretty, but the book might not be.

What I mean by this is that the "outer person" may not be the same as the "inner person." Wise people don't get blinded by charm, personality, or looks right away. Conversely, they are also not turned off by anyone who is not beautiful or charming on first impression, either. In other words, they take the time to get to know people and judge them on their inner self, not who they appear to be. Trust me, there can be a huge difference!

10. Don't judge others - try to understand them instead.

Above all else, truly wise people don't judge. They practice empathy. Empathy is truly putting yourself in another person's shoes and trying to see the situation from their point of view. That doesn't mean you have to agree with them. But it does mean that you need to recognize the fact that "perception is reality."

11. Think positive thoughts & repeat affirmations.

Let's face it - wise people are positive. However, they are human. And because of that, they are not immune to negative thoughts. But here's the difference - whenever a wise person recognizes negativity creeping into their minds, they immediately stop it and turn to something positive. They turn to reading positive quotes, or simply pick up a self-help book to help change the direction of their thoughts. It's habit to them, and it can become that to you too, if you just put some conscious effort into it.

Thinking like a wise person might seem difficult. However, all you need to do is train your mind and control your emotions. Easier said than done for many people, but it is possible to think wisely with practice. The more wise we all become, the happier the world will be!

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How to be a Wise Person: 10 Tips from the Bible on Growing in Wisdom

how to be wise





February 2007

A few days ago I finally figured out something I've wondered about for 25 years: the relationship between wisdom and intelligence. Anyone can see they're not the same by the number of people who are smart, but not very wise. And yet intelligence and wisdom do seem related. How?

What is wisdom? I'd say it's knowing what to do in a lot of situations. I'm not trying to make a deep point here about the true nature of wisdom, just to figure out how we use the word. A wise person is someone who usually knows the right thing to do.

And yet isn't being smart also knowing what to do in certain situations? For example, knowing what to do when the teacher tells your elementary school class to add all the numbers from 1 to 100? [1]

Some say wisdom and intelligence apply to different types of problems—wisdom to human problems and intelligence to abstract ones. But that isn't true. Some wisdom has nothing to do with people: for example, the wisdom of the engineer who knows certain structures are less prone to failure than others. And certainly smart people can find clever solutions to human problems as well as abstract ones. [2]

Another popular explanation is that wisdom comes from experience while intelligence is innate. But people are not simply wise in proportion to how much experience they have. Other things must contribute to wisdom besides experience, and some may be innate: a reflective disposition, for example.

Neither of the conventional explanations of the difference between wisdom and intelligence stands up to scrutiny. So what is the difference? If we look at how people use the words "wise" and "smart," what they seem to mean is different shapes of performance.

Curve

"Wise" and "smart" are both ways of saying someone knows what to do. The difference is that "wise" means one has a high average outcome across all situations, and "smart" means one does spectacularly well in a few. That is, if you had a graph in which the x axis represented situations and the y axis the outcome, the graph of the wise person would be high overall, and the graph of the smart person would have high peaks.

The distinction is similar to the rule that one should judge talent at its best and character at its worst. Except you judge intelligence at its best, and wisdom by its average. That's how the two are related: they're the two different senses in which the same curve can be high.

So a wise person knows what to do in most situations, while a smart person knows what to do in situations where few others could. We need to add one more qualification: we should ignore cases where someone knows what to do because they have inside information. [3] But aside from that, I don't think we can get much more specific without starting to be mistaken.

Nor do we need to. Simple as it is, this explanation predicts, or at least accords with, both of the conventional stories about the distinction between wisdom and intelligence. Human problems are the most common type, so being good at solving those is key in achieving a high average outcome. And it seems natural that a high average outcome depends mostly on experience, but that dramatic peaks can only be achieved by people with certain rare, innate qualities; nearly anyone can learn to be a good swimmer, but to be an Olympic swimmer you need a certain body type.

This explanation also suggests why wisdom is such an elusive concept: there's no such thing. "Wise" means something—that one is on average good at making the right choice. But giving the name "wisdom" to the supposed quality that enables one to do that doesn't mean such a thing exists. To the extent "wisdom" means anything, it refers to a grab-bag of qualities as various as self-discipline, experience, and empathy. [4]

Likewise, though "intelligent" means something, we're asking for trouble if we insist on looking for a single thing called "intelligence." And whatever its components, they're not all innate. We use the word "intelligent" as an indication of ability: a smart person can grasp things few others could. It does seem likely there's some inborn predisposition to intelligence (and wisdom too), but this predisposition is not itself intelligence.

One reason we tend to think of intelligence as inborn is that people trying to measure it have concentrated on the aspects of it that are most measurable. A quality that's inborn will obviously be more convenient to work with than one that's influenced by experience, and thus might vary in the course of a study. The problem comes when we drag the word "intelligence" over onto what they're measuring. If they're measuring something inborn, they can't be measuring intelligence. Three year olds aren't smart. When we describe one as smart, it's shorthand for "smarter than other three year olds."

Split

Perhaps it's a technicality to point out that a predisposition to intelligence is not the same as intelligence. But it's an important technicality, because it reminds us that we can become smarter, just as we can become wiser.

The alarming thing is that we may have to choose between the two.

If wisdom and intelligence are the average and peaks of the same curve, then they converge as the number of points on the curve decreases. If there's just one point, they're identical: the average and maximum are the same. But as the number of points increases, wisdom and intelligence diverge. And historically the number of points on the curve seems to have been increasing: our ability is tested in an ever wider range of situations.

In the time of Confucius and Socrates, people seem to have regarded wisdom, learning, and intelligence as more closely related than we do. Distinguishing between "wise" and "smart" is a modern habit. [5] And the reason we do is that they've been diverging. As knowledge gets more specialized, there are more points on the curve, and the distinction between the spikes and the average becomes sharper, like a digital image rendered with more pixels.

One consequence is that some old recipes may have become obsolete. At the very least we have to go back and figure out if they were really recipes for wisdom or intelligence. But the really striking change, as intelligence and wisdom drift apart, is that we may have to decide which we prefer. We may not be able to optimize for both simultaneously.

Society seems to have voted for intelligence. We no longer admire the sage—not the way people did two thousand years ago. Now we admire the genius. Because in fact the distinction we began with has a rather brutal converse: just as you can be smart without being very wise, you can be wise without being very smart. That doesn't sound especially admirable. That gets you James Bond, who knows what to do in a lot of situations, but has to rely on Q for the ones involving math.

Intelligence and wisdom are obviously not mutually exclusive. In fact, a high average may help support high peaks. But there are reasons to believe that at some point you have to choose between them. One is the example of very smart people, who are so often unwise that in popular culture this now seems to be regarded as the rule rather than the exception. Perhaps the absent-minded professor is wise in his way, or wiser than he seems, but he's not wise in the way Confucius or Socrates wanted people to be. [6]

New

For both Confucius and Socrates, wisdom, virtue, and happiness were necessarily related. The wise man was someone who knew what the right choice was and always made it; to be the right choice, it had to be morally right; he was therefore always happy, knowing he'd done the best he could. I can't think of many ancient philosophers who would have disagreed with that, so far as it goes.

"The superior man is always happy; the small man sad," said Confucius. [7]

Whereas a few years ago I read an interview with a mathematician who said that most nights he went to bed discontented, feeling he hadn't made enough progress. [8] The Chinese and Greek words we translate as "happy" didn't mean exactly what we do by it, but there's enough overlap that this remark contradicts them.

Is the mathematician a small man because he's discontented? No; he's just doing a kind of work that wasn't very common in Confucius's day.

Human knowledge seems to grow fractally. Time after time, something that seemed a small and uninteresting area—experimental error, even—turns out, when examined up close, to have as much in it as all knowledge up to that point. Several of the fractal buds that have exploded since ancient times involve inventing and discovering new things. Math, for example, used to be something a handful of people did part-time. Now it's the career of thousands. And in work that involves making new things, some old rules don't apply.

Recently I've spent some time advising people, and there I find the ancient rule still works: try to understand the situation as well as you can, give the best advice you can based on your experience, and then don't worry about it, knowing you did all you could. But I don't have anything like this serenity when I'm writing an essay. Then I'm worried. What if I run out of ideas? And when I'm writing, four nights out of five I go to bed discontented, feeling I didn't get enough done.

Advising people and writing are fundamentally different types of work. When people come to you with a problem and you have to figure out the right thing to do, you don't (usually) have to invent anything. You just weigh the alternatives and try to judge which is the prudent choice. But prudence can't tell me what sentence to write next. The search space is too big.

Someone like a judge or a military officer can in much of his work be guided by duty, but duty is no guide in making things. Makers depend on something more precarious: inspiration. And like most people who lead a precarious existence, they tend to be worried, not contented. In that respect they're more like the small man of Confucius's day, always one bad harvest (or ruler) away from starvation. Except instead of being at the mercy of weather and officials, they're at the mercy of their own imagination.

Limits

To me it was a relief just to realize it might be ok to be discontented. The idea that a successful person should be happy has thousands of years of momentum behind it. If I was any good, why didn't I have the easy confidence winners are supposed to have? But that, I now believe, is like a runner asking "If I'm such a good athlete, why do I feel so tired?" Good runners still get tired; they just get tired at higher speeds.

People whose work is to invent or discover things are in the same position as the runner. There's no way for them to do the best they can, because there's no limit to what they could do. The closest you can come is to compare yourself to other people. But the better you do, the less this matters. An undergrad who gets something published feels like a star. But for someone at the top of the field, what's the test of doing well? Runners can at least compare themselves to others doing exactly the same thing; if you win an Olympic gold medal, you can be fairly content, even if you think you could have run a bit faster. But what is a novelist to do?

Whereas if you're doing the kind of work in which problems are presented to you and you have to choose between several alternatives, there's an upper bound on your performance: choosing the best every time. In ancient societies, nearly all work seems to have been of this type. The peasant had to decide whether a garment was worth mending, and the king whether or not to invade his neighbor, but neither was expected to invent anything. In principle they could have; the king could have invented firearms, then invaded his neighbor. But in practice innovations were so rare that they weren't expected of you, any more than goalkeepers are expected to score goals. [9] In practice, it seemed as if there was a correct decision in every situation, and if you made it you'd done your job perfectly, just as a goalkeeper who prevents the other team from scoring is considered to have played a perfect game.

In this world, wisdom seemed paramount. [10] Even now, most people do work in which problems are put before them and they have to choose the best alternative. But as knowledge has grown more specialized, there are more and more types of work in which people have to make up new things, and in which performance is therefore unbounded. Intelligence has become increasingly important relative to wisdom because there is more room for spikes.

Recipes

Another sign we may have to choose between intelligence and wisdom is how different their recipes are. Wisdom seems to come largely from curing childish qualities, and intelligence largely from cultivating them.

Recipes for wisdom, particularly ancient ones, tend to have a remedial character. To achieve wisdom one must cut away all the debris that fills one's head on emergence from childhood, leaving only the important stuff. Both self-control and experience have this effect: to eliminate the random biases that come from your own nature and from the circumstances of your upbringing respectively. That's not all wisdom is, but it's a large part of it. Much of what's in the sage's head is also in the head of every twelve year old. The difference is that in the head of the twelve year old it's mixed together with a lot of random junk.

The path to intelligence seems to be through working on hard problems. You develop intelligence as you might develop muscles, through exercise. But there can't be too much compulsion here. No amount of discipline can replace genuine curiosity. So cultivating intelligence seems to be a matter of identifying some bias in one's character—some tendency to be interested in certain types of things—and nurturing it. Instead of obliterating your idiosyncrasies in an effort to make yourself a neutral vessel for the truth, you select one and try to grow it from a seedling into a tree.

The wise are all much alike in their wisdom, but very smart people tend to be smart in distinctive ways.

Most of our educational traditions aim at wisdom. So perhaps one reason schools work badly is that they're trying to make intelligence using recipes for wisdom. Most recipes for wisdom have an element of subjection. At the very least, you're supposed to do what the teacher says. The more extreme recipes aim to break down your individuality the way basic training does. But that's not the route to intelligence. Whereas wisdom comes through humility, it may actually help, in cultivating intelligence, to have a mistakenly high opinion of your abilities, because that encourages you to keep working. Ideally till you realize how mistaken you were.

(The reason it's hard to learn new skills late in life is not just that one's brain is less malleable. Another probably even worse obstacle is that one has higher standards.)

I realize we're on dangerous ground here. I'm not proposing the primary goal of education should be to increase students' "self-esteem." That just breeds laziness. And in any case, it doesn't really fool the kids, not the smart ones. They can tell at a young age that a contest where everyone wins is a fraud.

A teacher has to walk a narrow path: you want to encourage kids to come up with things on their own, but you can't simply applaud everything they produce. You have to be a good audience: appreciative, but not too easily impressed. And that's a lot of work. You have to have a good enough grasp of kids' capacities at different ages to know when to be surprised.

That's the opposite of traditional recipes for education. Traditionally the student is the audience, not the teacher; the student's job is not to invent, but to absorb some prescribed body of material. (The use of the term "recitation" for sections in some colleges is a fossil of this.) The problem with these old traditions is that they're too much influenced by recipes for wisdom.

Different

I deliberately gave this essay a provocative title; of course it's worth being wise. But I think it's important to understand the relationship between intelligence and wisdom, and particularly what seems to be the growing gap between them. That way we can avoid applying rules and standards to intelligence that are really meant for wisdom. These two senses of "knowing what to do" are more different than most people realize. The path to wisdom is through discipline, and the path to intelligence through carefully selected self-indulgence. Wisdom is universal, and intelligence idiosyncratic. And while wisdom yields calmness, intelligence much of the time leads to discontentment.

That's particularly worth remembering. A physicist friend recently told me half his department was on Prozac. Perhaps if we acknowledge that some amount of frustration is inevitable in certain kinds of work, we can mitigate its effects. Perhaps we can box it up and put it away some of the time, instead of letting it flow together with everyday sadness to produce what seems an alarmingly large pool. At the very least, we can avoid being discontented about being discontented.

If you feel exhausted, it's not necessarily because there's something wrong with you. Maybe you're just running fast.





Notes

[1] Gauss was supposedly asked this when he was 10. Instead of laboriously adding together the numbers like the other students, he saw that they consisted of 50 pairs that each summed to 101 (100 + 1, 99 + 2, etc), and that he could just multiply 101 by 50 to get the answer, 5050.

[2] A variant is that intelligence is the ability to solve problems, and wisdom the judgement to know how to use those solutions. But while this is certainly an important relationship between wisdom and intelligence, it's not the distinction between them. Wisdom is useful in solving problems too, and intelligence can help in deciding what to do with the solutions.

[3] In judging both intelligence and wisdom we have to factor out some knowledge. People who know the combination of a safe will be better at opening it than people who don't, but no one would say that was a test of intelligence or wisdom.

But knowledge overlaps with wisdom and probably also intelligence. A knowledge of human nature is certainly part of wisdom. So where do we draw the line?

Perhaps the solution is to discount knowledge that at some point has a sharp drop in utility. For example, understanding French will help you in a large number of situations, but its value drops sharply as soon as no one else involved knows French. Whereas the value of understanding vanity would decline more gradually.

The knowledge whose utility drops sharply is the kind that has little relation to other knowledge. This includes mere conventions, like languages and safe combinations, and also what we'd call "random" facts, like movie stars' birthdays, or how to distinguish 1956 from 1957 Studebakers.

[4] People seeking some single thing called "wisdom" have been fooled by grammar. Wisdom is just knowing the right thing to do, and there are a hundred and one different qualities that help in that. Some, like selflessness, might come from meditating in an empty room, and others, like a knowledge of human nature, might come from going to drunken parties.

Perhaps realizing this will help dispel the cloud of semi-sacred mystery that surrounds wisdom in so many people's eyes. The mystery comes mostly from looking for something that doesn't exist. And the reason there have historically been so many different schools of thought about how to achieve wisdom is that they've focused on different components of it.

When I use the word "wisdom" in this essay, I mean no more than whatever collection of qualities helps people make the right choice in a wide variety of situations.

[5] Even in English, our sense of the word "intelligence" is surprisingly recent. Predecessors like "understanding" seem to have had a broader meaning.

[6] There is of course some uncertainty about how closely the remarks attributed to Confucius and Socrates resemble their actual opinions. I'm using these names as we use the name "Homer," to mean the hypothetical people who said the things attributed to them.

[7] Analects VII:36, Fung trans.

Some translators use "calm" instead of "happy." One source of difficulty here is that present-day English speakers have a different idea of happiness from many older societies. Every language probably has a word meaning "how one feels when things are going well," but different cultures react differently when things go well. We react like children, with smiles and laughter. But in a more reserved society, or in one where life was tougher, the reaction might be a quiet contentment.

[8] It may have been Andrew Wiles, but I'm not sure. If anyone remembers such an interview, I'd appreciate hearing from you.

[9] Confucius claimed proudly that he had never invented anything—that he had simply passed on an accurate account of ancient traditions. [Analects VII:1] It's hard for us now to appreciate how important a duty it must have been in preliterate societies to remember and pass on the group's accumulated knowledge. Even in Confucius's time it still seems to have been the first duty of the scholar.

[10] The bias toward wisdom in ancient philosophy may be exaggerated by the fact that, in both Greece and China, many of the first philosophers (including Confucius and Plato) saw themselves as teachers of administrators, and so thought disproportionately about such matters. The few people who did invent things, like storytellers, must have seemed an outlying data point that could be ignored.

Thanks to Trevor Blackwell, Sarah Harlin, Jessica Livingston, and Robert Morris for reading drafts of this.



We have people like the Dalai Lama who is an incredibly wise and loved individual. He's spent years on this earth learning and studying.

6 Brainy Habits of Exceptionally Wise People

how to be wise

On Tuesdays I write about the top voted question on Ask Berkun (see the archive). This week’s question is from Mike:  How can you tell a wise person when you meet one?

If you can’t judge a book by its cover, how can you judge a person on their first impression? I’ve never liked the cliche about “you never get a second chance…” because it’s rarely true. Sure, if you spill a grande coffee on someone’s lap, or set an entire dining room on fire, that would be tricky to recover from on a first date, but most first interactions with people are terribly bland, no matter how wise either of you are. There just is no secret wise-person handshake nor a wise-person detection app for your phone.

Instead it takes an actual conversation with someone to learn who they are and how wise they might be. Starting conversations isn’t that hard, but there is a stupor that comes over most of us when we meet new people. Mostly, it goes like this: “Hi, how are you?” “I’m fine, you?” “I’m fine, thanks” <silence>. There’s not much chance to notice a wise person here. Our questionable social skills with strangers means there are hundreds of wise people we have met at parties, or stood next to at the bus stop, and never knew it.

I understand social anxiety and fear of embarrassment, but yet it’s still mystifying that after 10,000 years of civilized life our species still hasn’t recognized how little there is to lose in talking to strangers (in safe situations). Why not just assume they are wise or interesting? What is there really to lose if you’re wrong? It’s easy to end conversations with strangers and they likely didn’t even expect you to start one. Therefore, why not make an offer to get outside of the boring conventions of daily life we so often complain about? More to my point, it takes a bit of wisdom about wisdom to find wise people.

Wisdom means not only experience, but an understanding of how to apply life experience (the past) to the present. This means the most likely way to identify a wise person is to have a conversation about life, which likely means to talk about a shared, or personal, event that has already taken place. It’s in their own observations that their wisdom or insight will be revealed (or not). This could take the shape of lessons learned, of attitudes about relationships or work, or thoughts about regrets and future dreams.

Now it’d be weird to go up to a stranger, introduce yourself, and demand “tell me a personal story that reveals how wise you are”. Don’t do that. But in most social situations there is a fast path towards sharing stories. For example, at a party you can always ask anyone you don’t know: “how do you know <name of host of party>” which almost always has some kind of story as an answer (and you can show your curiosity by asking interesting questions about their story). And then you can reply with your own answer, but add some leading context that hints at a story, or question, of your own. Perhaps “We went to college together a decade ago, but I have to admit I’m not sure I belong here. There’s just too many people I don’t know.” Or even ask for advice about how to meet new people at events like this, a fun meta-trick (as by asking this to a new person you are using the question itself to solve them problem).

Perhaps my party socializing advice seems bound to fail, and you might be right. Maybe it’s easier to start with people we already know, like friends, coworkers and family. But even then there must be some kind of inciting event to wake another person up out of their daily routines and pay attention to the fact you are offering a more interesting kind of conversation. There is no guarantee they’ll be interested, or even understand that this is what you are offering. Yet if you don’t try, you’ll never know if you just overlooked a wise person. Someone has to (kindly) incite the chance for insight. To find wise people, you have to be wise enough, or perhaps just sufficiently bold, to reach out for them.

Part of the challenge in finding wise people is what we perceive as wisdom is filtered by the chemistry created by our personality meeting the personality of another. Someone can be very wise, but also irritating. For example I suspect Socrates, for all his wisdom, wasn’t particularly easy to get along with (yet the meetup group that bares his name can be a great way to meet wise people). Maybe you meet someone wise, but they offer their wisdom in a way that makes you feel belittled. Or they have bad breath, which you despise. Or maybe you don’t like their sense of humor, which diminishes your interest in their sage like thoughts. Just because they are wise doesn’t mean their wisdom will be palatable, or even comprehendible, to you.

If I had to list traits of someone wise, they’d include:

  • Experienced – they’ve had interesting life experiences, both successes and failures, and they’ve asked good questions about them
  • Humble confidence – they have clarity to share, or to challenge my thinking, but without a strong need to convince me of their view
  • Insightful opinions – their thoughts invite consideration or raise my curiosity (even if I don’t agree with their conclusions)
  • (I very much want to list a good sense of humor, but I’m convinced that reflects my own biases)

Which leads to the observation that wisdom isn’t a universal attribute. Some people are very wise about business, but are terribly ignorant about how healthy relationships work. Or they can give fantastic advice about life to others that they fail to practice in their own lives (a notorious failing of gurus, experts and authors too). The singular word wisdom doesn’t stretch to cover the complexities of how it, or it’s absence, plays out in a person’s life, or in the advice they give. People in their later years certainly have more life experience to work from, but that by no means guarantees they possess any more wisdom about life than someone much younger than they are: a person might accumulate ignorance, or bitterness, at the same, or a faster, rate than wisdom.

In the end, mostly what we want are interesting people who are interested in us. Who are friendly, perhaps charming, willing to share what they know and perhaps willing to listen for wisdom they don’t have in new people they meet. Framed this way the titular question of this essay is less daunting. Once you befriend one person with these attributes, it’s easier to find more. And who knows, maybe while we’re trying to find what we need, now and then we can be the “wise person” someone we meet (at a party) is looking to find.

Where have you met the wisest people you know? How did you recognize them? Leave a comment.

If you are looking for ways to be wise then look beyond your self-interest. A wise person will adhere to choices and judgements based on his.

how to be wise
Written by Moshakar
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