Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom. ~Aristotle
Wisdom—both revered and elusive—has captured the hearts and minds of many for centuries. It has been a central area of study and discourse in disciplines including philosophy, religion, psychology, sociology and neuroscience.
All these areas of study and points of view over so many years have resulted in seemingly endless definitions and models of wisdom. Despite the myriad definitions, it’s rare in practical life to hear anyone ask, “What do you mean by wisdom?” or “How do you define wisdom?”. Wisdom seems to fall into that murky bucket of things that we can’t exactly put into words, but we know it when we see it. Perhaps that is because somewhere embedded in all the definitions and points of view on wisdom there are two fundamental themes; wisdom involves both seeing clearly and knowing/understanding deeply.
Wisdom is so highly valued that there are countless methods proposed for developing this somewhat intangible practice. Yet for all the diverse perspectives on the subject, there seem to be several themes frequently referenced or recommended as necessary ingredients for cultivating wisdom. Although not an exhaustive list, we suggest the following as a collection of foundational elements in the cultivation of wisdom:
Openness: to ideas, people and experiences: to have rich and varied opportunities in which we are exposed to different ideas and people.
Attentiveness: in observing self and others: to be curious and objective, to watch and listen closely.
Emotional Intelligence: to understand the emotions of both self and others; to be able to constructively experience, demonstrate and regulate one’s own emotions.
Reflectiveness: pausing to quietly think, write or meditate, gaining insights from what is observed or experienced and understanding underlying meanings and complexities.
Perhaps, when we reflect on how challenging it can be to develop and sustain any one of these foundational ingredients, it comes as no surprise that wisdom, which seems to require some degree of all four, is somewhat rare. And yet we know that wisdom is not an all or nothing endeavor. Every small bit of progress we make (or help others make) in any one of these areas engages us in the practice of cultivating wisdom.