Wisdom Explored – Four Elements of Cultivating Wisdom

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.


About the author

As president of MRG, Tricia uses her penchant for bursting into song and bringing out the best in people in approximately equal measure.

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Robert Cornett
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Robert Cornett

Thanks and kudos for starting this discussion! In my view wisdom stems from deep reflection about one’s experience and a willingness to see yourself, others and events in your life as they are rather than as you wish them to be or as others say they are or should be. I agree that openness, attentiveness, emotional intelligence and reflectiveness are all key aspects of developing wisdom. I would also add the intuition is another key element of wisdom – it is that illusive 6th sense that can lead to profound insights or “Eureka” moments that cannot come from our mind… Read more »

Tricia Naddaff
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Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and insights Robert!

Dr. Monika Ardelt recently spoke at the Wisdom Research Forum at the University of Chicago and for those who are interested you can watch her talk here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-DoNh6RrKyE and also get access to several of the other talks on wisdom given at the Forum.

Robert Cornett
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Robert Cornett

Thanks for the info Tricia. Do you see a place for this wisdom research in any of the MRG assessment tools?

Tricia Naddaff
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Yes Robert – we’re exploring the possibility of including research questions related to wisdom in both the LEA and the IDI.

Robert Cornett
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Robert Cornett

I look forward to hearing more as your thinking evolves!