Ethics in everyday life: eight qualities of wisdom

There is information, there is knowledge, then there is wisdom – all the ways of knowing.

We live in an age of incredible information, immediately accessible to us. But there is so much information that it is difficult to distinguish what is true from what is not. We become confused and frustrated, often giving up the search.

Knowledge is another way to find out the truth, but it is often knowledge of the book, of information memorized but not really understood, retained long enough to pass a test or complete a project.

Wisdom is both personal and universal, lessons learned from history but applied to good living. It is often sought after but rarely really applied. Wisdom is the goal of the good life advocated by poets and prophets, philosophers and theologians. But we are seldom wise enough to practice its qualities.

Philosophy has always been concerned with wisdom – what it is and how we get it. But lately psychologists and others who study human behavior have tried to describe the characteristics of wisdom. In an age when we are inundated with information and knowledge but short on wisdom, it may be good to understand the qualities that make a wise person or society.

One writer, Stephen S. Hall, science journalist, wrote about wisdom in terms of eight qualities or pillars – in his book “Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience” (Vintage Books, 2011).

Here are the eight qualities of wisdom:

  1. Emotional regulation. We learn to balance our reason and our emotions in the decisions.
  2. Know what is important. We learn to focus on what is really important in our lives (usually our families, our close friends, our work).
  3. Moral reasoning. We learn what is right and wrong.
  4. Compassion. We learn to treat others and ourselves with kindness.
  5. Humility. We learn how little we know and take a step back.
  6. Altruism. We learn to get involved with more than ourselves.
  7. Patience. We learn to delay immediate gratification for future rewards.
  8. Dealing with uncertainty. We learn to adapt to change and to grow.

Stop for a few minutes to ask yourself a few questions:

Do you know a wise person? What are their characteristics ?

Can you learn to be a wise person?

How could these qualities be fostered in you, your family, society, the world?

John C. Morgan is a teacher and writer.

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