Wisdom LO1064

David E. Birren, MB/5, 608.267.2442 (BIRRED@dnr.state.wi.us)
Thu, 4 May 1995 14:36 CST

Just when I thought I'd seen the last word on this list about wisdom, my
minister provided a Celestine coincidence. Here are a few thoughts on the
subject, courtesy of a service titled "Wise Guys" by Rev. Michael Schuler,
First Unitarian Society, Madison, Wisconsin, April 16, 1995. (I hope this
isn't becoming tiring.)

From the Tao Te Ching:
Can you love people and lead them without imposing your will?
Can you deal with the most vital matters by letting events take
their course?
Can you step back from your own mind and thus understand all
Giving birth and nourishing,
Having without possession,
Acting with no expectations,
Leading and not trying to control:
These are the supreme virtues.
The more you know, the less you understand.
Sometimes it is a bit difficult to distinguish between wisdom and
foolishness from outward appearance alone.
Wisdom is a happy marriage between respect for tradition on the one
hand, and confidence in one's own discernment on the other.
Wisdom is a kind of intelligence that develops over time and only
in a few very special people. Howard Gardner [a Harvard psychologist]
defines wisdom as a "general synthesizing power." "This
intelligence," he writes, "is what one comes to expect from an older
individual who has had a wide range of critical experiences in his
earlier life and can now apply them appropriately and judiciously, in
the proper circumstances." ... wisdom requires a broad foundation of
experientially-based knowledge which flexible and creative individuals
are able to draw upon and then adapt to specific situations.
But there are other qualities of wisdom that help distinguish
wisdom from more ordinary forms of understanding and intelligence.
After flexibility, perhaps its most striking feature is humility.
From Andrew Weil (physician, writer, Harvard Medical School grad):
"However much you illuminate your world with the light of knowledge --
the bigger that fire bceomes and the brighter it burns -- the more you
are aware of the extent of darkness yet to be illuminated. That is
the difference between the individual who is wise and the one who
merely possesses knowledge."
Many realities die the moment they are wrapped in words.
Recognizing the limitations of language, then, the wise individual
witnesses more than he teaches; he does not so much speak wisdom as
embody it.
There are several other qualities and characteristics of wisdom
that could be highlighted, but time grows short so I'll mention just
one more: the truly wise man or woman never forgets the true purpose
of wisdom, what it is for. Its purpose is not to gain power or
material advantage, to manipulate or to exploit others, to bolster
one's ego or even fulfill one's potential. Unlocking the mystery of
the cosmos or solving the riddle of consciousness is not wisdom's role
either. In the end, there is only one valid reason for seeking
wisdom. As the Benedictine prioress Joan Chittester puts it, "It is
to live the ordinary life extraordinarily well ... to live life more
as a gift than a struggle."
Knowledge, expertise, intelligence and understanding can all be
used to improve the physical conditions of life on this planet and to
gain insight into the mechanics of creation. But if it's self-
mastery, inner harmony and a sense of well-being we yearn for, then
nothing less than wisdom sill suffice. Today we celebrate the wisdom
that sometimes masquerades as foolishness, but which has the power to
liberate us from the tyranny of our own dead habits and fatal


If anyone's interested in a written copy of the transcript I copied this from,
let me know and send me your snail mail address.


David E. Birren Phone: (608)267-2442
Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources Fax: (608)267-3579
Bureau of Management & Budget Internet: birred@dnr.state.wi.us
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"To know, and not to act, is to not know."
--Wang Yang Ming, 9th-century Chinese general