After downing our cereal and sipping on our very hot tea, Dharma began my lesson for this week. "Tadpole," he explained, "a frog's wisdom is more often learned when he stoops than when he leaps." It was a lesson that we've had many times before but on this day, he was taking a new angle. As usual, I didn't immediately understand what he was getting at but I knew that if I just sat tight, it would eventually become clear.
"My boy, what is wisdom? The dictionary tells us that it is understanding what is true, right, and lasting. I might further add that I believe wisdom is grounded and earthy. It's not subject to randomness. We become wise once we have learned that keeping our heads in the clouds isn't beneficial for us." I was following him pretty much, so far, but wondered if wisdom was something that simply comes with age...no work required...or was it something that we could actively learn? Is it a label that we can attach to ourselves or is it a title that is conferred on us? It wasn't long before these questions, as well as a few I hadn't thought of, were answered.
Most folks, frogs, too, seem to associate wisdom with age. But that. as we know, isn't always the case. Just look at the wisdom that often times comes out of the mouths of children who are very young! About the only thing that changes is that, as we get older, we become more reflective. Kids aren't reflective at all. They speak their truth, whatever it might be at any given moment, without giving any thought to past, or future experiences. And we've learned that wisdom doesn't always equate with intelligence. I know that my grandparents, for instance, didn't go to college yet they are the some of the wisest people I know. Why? Because they have life experience.
Dharma explained that wisdom isn't innate and can be gained through experience. I wanted to know what characteristics a wise person has and Dharma's answer surprised me. "Son, there are several characteristics that a wise frog and a wise human share. They think before speaking or acting. They admit when they don't know something, and, finally, they tend to have empathy. This means that they don't only help others, but they learn from them and their experiences, as well. Because wisdom is about learning and about being grounded in the present, we won't (or rarely) find wisdom up in the clouds, as they say." I found this information fascinating and so I asked Dharma how I could become a wiser frog. He gave me a few simple steps. I do hope you'll find them as beneficial as I did.
1. Don't wait until your older or smarter. A wise person is just as apt to be 30 years old as 60. According to data collected, the correlation between age and wisdom is zero. "Wisdom emerges not from experience itself, but rather from reflecting thoughtfully on the lessons gained from experience. Further research shows that intelligence only accounts for about 2% of the variance in wisdom.
2. See the world in shades of grey...not just black and white. Wise people specialize in "integrative thing; the capacity to hold two diametrically opposing ideas in their heads and reconcile them for the situation at hand." They understand that no two situations or people or frogs are exactly the same. So while learning from past experience, we must also be able to apply that knowledge to the context of the current situation.
3. Balance your self-interest with the common good. One of the most important elements of wisdom is the ability to, look past our own personal desires; wisdom and egocentricity are incompatible. This does not mean, however, that wise people are self-sacrificing. Wise people reject the assumption that the world is a win-lose, zero-sum place. They find ways to benefit others that also advance their own objectives. A perfect example is when you fly. They will tell you to, in case of an emergency, to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. If you don't, you risk losing oxygen and will then be of no use to anyone...including yourself!
4. Challenge the status quo. Wise people are willing to question rules. Instead of accepting things as they have always been, wisdom involves asking whether there’s a better path.
5. Aim to understand, rather than judge. Many of us operate like jurors, passing judgment on the actions of others so that we can sort them into categories of good and bad. Wise folks tend to resist this impulse. They operate more like a detective and try to uncover the facts to explain others behaviors. "Over time, this emphasis on understanding rather than evaluating yields an advantage in predicting others’ actions, enabling wise people to offer better advice to others and make better choices themselves."
6. Focus on purpose rather than pleasure. Wise humans and wise frogs are not any happier than their peers. They don't experience more positive emotions. This is most likely due to the fact that wisdom requires critical self-reflection and a long-term view of things. There is, however, a clear psychological benefit from having more wisdom; and that is a stronger sense of purpose in life. As Dharma put it so succinctly, "Wisdom may involve putting what makes us happy on the back burner in our quest for meaning and significance."
As to the question of labeling ourselves wise, I don't think labels are of any real value to us...whatever label it might be. Labels tend to put pressure on us to act or think in a particular way. I'm not sure whether or not Dharma would agree with me. But I do know that, if he was asked, wouldn't necessarily admit to being wise himself. He'd probably tell me that he's just being true to himself and that wisdom is in the eye, or ear, of the beholder.
Please stop back by tomorrow for another informative blog on happiness. And who couldn't use a little more of that? Until then, I wish you