Our Socrates Cafe question was “How could we identify wisdom?” and we covered many aspects and variations of that problem for two hours. The opening salvo began with the Biblical quotation “Get wisdom and with all thy getting get understanding,” Proverbs – 4-7. This isn’t a religious discussion group, but that was a logical beginning, and Coleridge’s “Wisdom is common sense to an uncommon degree” quickly flew by, Buddha’s Four Cardinal Virtues were mentioned, and a definition was read off an internet dictionary. We sought on for the basis of how we could know wisdom, and most agreed that it could be seen in hindsight as having consistently gotten good results out of seemingly very difficult and confusing situations. Just having a good outcome in a specific situation might be simple luck, and thus “Wisdom oft comes from the mouth of babes” was discounted.
We felt that the individual consciousness was critically involved in who we saw as possessing wisdom, because it was an active and ongoing process kind of thing. There was the hindsight versus foresight problem, and how can we know whom to follow, when we know that we do not know the best way forward. To which, all else being equal, it seemed best to go with a record of successful accomplishment in similar situations. But, there reared the concept of confirmation bias, and the distortions our own minds would insert into a clear decision-making process. Did a situation call for a life-smart kind of person, or one of considerable book learning? Did the problem to be coped with need intelligence, or courage, or experience or leadership?
Wisdom becomes a difficult thing to define, and to choose, and to follow. Typically it’s the person shouting the loudest who claims leadership, but they are clearly functioning from prejudice and performing with bigotry, and following them will often bring us to disaster. Yet, the person who over-thinks the problem will be crippled by doublethink and doubts, and lack of decisive action, and that too will lead to disaster. Perhaps the Classic Greeks had the best answer, and that was to pursue all of the functional options through the planning stage, and if a best one couldn’t be decided upon, to then consult the Delphi Oracle. Then the Gods would speak, and say what must be done. Then the doubter could proceed with utmost confidence, vigor, and enthusiasm because the Gods were with him.
We had a round robin on the question, “Have we, as an individual, had an experience of personal wisdom?” I spoke of my encounter last week with the garden gnome Samumpsickle, and after realizing that my requests for improvement inevitably had a serious downside, I ended with, “Let the world progress as it was going to do without my suggestions or his help.”
We did end with a few generalizations, such as “It’s not enough to be right, if your actions end in disaster,” “Ignorance leads one into bondage, and wisdom gives one freedom of action,” “Wisdom brings calmness and the ability to generate kindness.” It ended with,
Wisdom is the ability to find the exact thing that will make a difference, and the ability to propagate it virally.