wise thoughtful wisdom applied

Demonstrating Wisdom

A recent Simon Sinek talk has been making its way around the internet and if you haven’t watched the video I’d encourage you to take a few minutes and listen to what he has to say. But before you jump on the bandwagon about how much you like or dislike Simon I want you to stop and think – regardless of your feelings about a person or their views consider the value in listening. Not hearing, and certainly not agreeing, but merely listening. Too often I think we form our opinions and then filter what we truly listen to as a result of our own way of thinking. But you don’t have to take my word for it…

Bunny Trail: As a kid I grew up watching (and admittedly liking) Reading Rainbow with Levar Burton. This was a classic tv series that even now I remember bits and pieces from. As I am writing this post I’m reminded of a phrase Levar would say every time before the “book reviews” section of his show. He would always introduce the reviews, provided by other children, with the same line. “But you don’t have to take my word for it.”

Obviously the idea of hearing opposing views and actually listening to them existed long before I ever suggested it. In fact, even one of the greatest philosophers of all time shared something similar. Socrates, the Greek philosopher and one of the founders of the entire concept of Western philosophy said this phrase:

“Wisdom is the ability to hold two opposing views in mind at the same time.” – Socrates

There are many times when we talk about wisdom and knowledge. And sure, we know the difference between the two: knowledge the ability to recall facts and figures; wisdom the practical application of knowledge. But there are almost always areas where identifying and demonstrating wisdom is incredibly difficult. Situational wisdom as it applies to every day living seems quite easy to understand. Basic example – I know how to change a tire. Raise the car by placing a jack under the mount near the flat tire, remove the hub cap, unscrew the lug nuts, pull the tire off the vehicle and replace it with a new one. (Boy, that sure sounds simple but trust me…every single one of those steps has about a million ways in which it could go wrong, terribly terribly wrong).

Those steps I just shared are knowledge. I have the knowledge about how to complete the task. Now when I actually have to change a tire and I realize that unscrewing the lug nuts take a significant amount of torque and the longer the tool I use the easier the job becomes (I’m ignoring the mechanics and their air drills for the moment); I’ve not only taken that knowledge but applied it to a specific instance. I’ve inferred more into the process and I have a deep understanding now not just of the steps but also how to perform them. This is knowledge applied, this is wisdom. I trust we can all see and agree with that. I’d call that situational wisdom, it’s knowledge applied to a specific situation.

The other type of wisdom I think about (and the one where I believe we struggle more to see practical application) I’m going to call abstract wisdom. This is knowledge applied to an abstract concept. In these situations there’s not evidential or tangible product by which we can judge whether or not wisdom exists (knowledge has been applied). These situations are the ones I am referring to when I talk about demonstrating wisdom.

We all laugh about the internet and this world of opposing views where everyone has an opinion. Take this meme for example:

This is all too common of a scene, and no I don’t mean dressing up in pirate gear and running along the beach. But the underlying principle of how we address opposing or conflicting views.

By now I hope you’re starting to see what I’m suggesting. One way we can actively demonstrate our abstract wisdom is through our ability to not just hear but listen to opposing views; to actively hold them in our minds and consider them thoughtfully. Rather than jumping to conclusions based on our opinions or previous experiences (or how we feel about the speaker’s hair) we can demonstrate wisdom through thoughtful consideration of opposing ideas. As you browse the internet, engage with co-workers, or even sit around the table with friends and family keep this thought in your mind. Be quick to listen and slow to speak. Process what you’re hearing and form an opinion based on knowledge. When you do this you’re demonstrating wisdom. You’re applying your knowledge to the conversation.

Have ideas on other types of wisdom? I’d love to hear them. I’ve only briefly touched on two forms. Agree? Disagree? Let me know what you think, I’m listening. (See what I did there?)

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
― Stephen R. Covey