Apr 1, 2012

Art of Worldly Wisdom

Are we wise?

I ask this as a world citizen who sees a world filled with clowns, fools, rogues and charlatans; pretenders with very little to show for either intelligence, understanding or wisdom, let alone common sense, social responsibility or humanity. These are people who spout rhetorical nonsense and offer promises, trinkets, fools gold and mistruths to a population to get them to buy their products, believe their message or to vote their hidden ideology. They are empowered because too many of us believe and enable them.

But the world doesn’t have to be so obtuse or apathetic. As individuals we were all born with intelligence. Hence, we are all capable of some sort of worldly thought and wisdom.

So what is wisdom? It certainly isn’t simple knowledge or even academic education; but it does start with knowing beyond the realm of our immediate reality. However, wisdom is so much more. It’s a way of understanding and using judgement; of being aware of certain aspects of human nature, actions and reason; of consequence and discretionary thought; of prudence and attitude; of integrity combined with street smarts, experience, failure, success and a learned and sometimes measured way of doing things.

Webster’s Dictionary defines wisdom as: The ability to discern inner qualities and relationships : insight. Good sense : judgment. A wise attitude, belief, or course of action. The teachings of the ancient wise men.

Wikipedia defines it as: a deep understanding and realization of people, things, events or situations, resulting in the ability to apply perceptions, judgements and actions in keeping with this understanding. It often requires control of one's emotional reactions (the "passions") so that universal principles, reason and knowledge prevail to determine one's actions. Wisdom is also the comprehension of what is true or right coupled with optimum judgment as to action.

Today, there is more knowledge, ideas and thought available throughout the world, from many sources, than at any other time in human existence. These come from Eastern, Western, Roman, Greek, Chinese, South American, North American, African philosophies, and from great societies, religions, cultures and civilizations. We have mega-worldly wisdom at out finger tips, on our computers, in books and through meaningful conversation. The wisdom that has been sought and fought over for centuries is readily available to all.

But are we wise?

We, as a world society, have all the knowledge available to be wise. Yet, we certainly don’t see it. Take the people we elect as politicians. All too often we put into power mediocre people of lesser character, those who are clamoring for their own self interests and kickbacks. Many are business leaders and many big business leaders give up wisdom for greed.

It never ceases to amaze me that there are so many courses of study at university, college, private classes and public schools, even boy and girl scouts where leadership is taught. But where are the leaders? Where are the morals? We usually settle for grossly inadequate, ego-maniacal, small-minded, ignorant and ideological political hacks as government leaders. And the business and money culture of somewhere like Wall Street can be summed up as nothing but corruption. Where is the wisdom when those with the most power seem to use it the least? And yet, it is us who have put them in place.

Surely, it is up to us as individuals to gain an understanding of how things work in the world. Real wisdom is the ability to make intelligent and well-informed choices based on thought, experience, discretion and knowing, because we have bothered to research the available knowledge and use a moral compass to make a wise judgement.

There are so many books available, but if there was just one book on personal wisdom that I could recommend to all it would be, “The Art of Worldly Wisdom,” by Balthasar Gracian. It’s a little book, but powerful. Gracian, a 17th-century, outspoken, Spanish priest, lays out in 300 maxims or aphorisms, a truly livable and intelligent guide on how to get along with people, confront others, as well as our own ego’s, plan and wisely go about life in a tough world. It’s a manual for training ourselves, perfecting our own lives and living toward wise thinking.

Gracian’s book begins with perfection, character and intellect, then it jumps to the art of being coy with your thoughts, not declaring yourself immediately. “Inspire people to wonder and watch you.” Maxim #4 is about knowledge and courage. “The elements of greatness.” My favorite, Maxim #22, is his advice for people to arm themselves with “tasteful and elegant erudition”; wise and witty sayings, noble deeds, jest, and knowledgable conversation. He writes that, “Knowledge gained in conversation can be of more help than the seven arts, however liberal.” In Maxim #162, he writes of how to triumph over your rivals and detractors by being a better individual. In turn, this can lead you to triumph many times.

Balthasar Gracian sums up the 300 maxims with, “In one word, be a Saint.” Here un-religiously, he extols the virtue and the qualities that complete a wise person. “Virtue is the sun of the world,” he says. “A person’s capacity and greatness are to be measured by virtue.”

The basic premise of the book is that wisdom is available to us all, if we could only slow down and take notice and find an understanding with the subtleties and nuances that life lays before us. We are constantly being bombarded with small life lessons and experiences. The task is to be aware enough to catch them and understand them, use them as knowledge and build upon their examples, and learn the delicacies of discrimination for what is right. Wonderful things stem from small beginnings, as the seeds of wisdom germinate within us over time.

The journey toward wisdom is everywhere. It is an awareness, a self-discovery, a discipline to be nurtured. It’s a perseverance to be a better person. Wisdom is something for which to strive.  And, when we find it, it is a gift.

It seems to me that to rise above the mass corruption in this world and do good as a wiser person, is a calling to be realized and open to all fair-minded, independent and responsible individuals.

This little book could help your journey.



“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

“Wisdom, compassion and courage are the three universally recognized moral qualities of men.”
- Confucius

“The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance.”
- Socrates

“We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.”
- Marcel Proust

“More than at any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness.  The other, to total extinction.  Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”
-  Woody Allen