What does it mean to be Wise?

It was some years ago when I realised I had reached the last few decades of my life.   I found myself thinking,  “Am I not supposed to be a wise woman by the time I get to this stage of my life?” This was followed by a certain degree of dissatisfaction, verging on despair. I was unable to perceive within my psyche any feelings which I assumed a wise woman should actually feel.   So my next thought was, “I had better involve myself in some serious activities to develop my aspirations towards understanding the qualities of this hypothetical ‘wise woman’.

Some Dictionary Quotes

The first place I went was to the Dictionary where I found some quotes:

  • Wisdom is a virtue that isn’t innate, but can only be acquired through experience.
  • Anyone who is interested in trying new things and reflecting on the process has the ability to gain wisdom.
  • By learning as much as you can, analyzing your experiences and putting your knowledge to the test, you can become a wiser person.
  • The Buddha says that real knowledge which is nothing but wisdom can be attained by knowing the impermanent nature of all objects we hanker after and annihilating cravings for them.
  • In the introduction to Age-ing and Sage-ing by Rabbi  Zalman Schachter-Shalomi we learn that the contemplative approach to aging is one in which we transcend doing in favour of being.   We learn to plumb our psyche for the spiritual gems of wisdom that come from mining our depths.
Are these definitions still relevant?

These definitions speak about the wisdom of emotionally and cognitively reprogramming our past experiences.   However, in view of our present existential crises relating to the Covid Pandemic, the inequality of the Caste structure and the dangers of Climate Disasters;  as well as the recent insurrection of the Washington Capitol by Trump supporters, the wise woman part of me is telling me to project my analysis into the future.

To support this approach here is a definition from The Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary.  It defines wisdom as “knowledge, and the capacity to make due use of it.”   It then continues, “One of the greatest pearls of spiritual wisdom that life can ever give you is that, for as long as you live, you will never have all of the wisdom you need. What you learned yesterday was enough for yesterday. Keep yourself aware that every minute you will be open to the new things that life wants to teach you about your environment, yourself and others. As you evolve, so do the messages that you must add to keep the spiritual evolution going.”

The Good Ancestor

And, then I discovered Roman Krznaric.  His TED Talk “How to be a Good Ancestor” and his book “The Good Ancestor” are replete with words which I consider to be wise.  Absorbing the thoughts and the philosophy of this wise middle aged man from Oxford University, is proving an exciting and affirming journey.   The case he makes for the present residents of this planet making themselves aware of how they are influencing the lives of their descendants, brings a whole new dimension to the work of becoming the hypothetical ‘wise woman’.

Do unto Future Generations as you would have Past Generations do unto you

Let us do a thought experiment.   How much do we appreciate our ancestors for the music, poetry and art which we are able to enjoy today?    And, how grateful are we for the comfortable and healthy lives we live because of the advances of science and medicine?

For what do you think future generations will thank us?   The sad reality is that our children and grandchildren are inheriting a planet which is in a much poorer state of health than the one into which we were born?

We have been warned since the 1970’s about the implication of Carbon Dioxide Emissions and the Warming Planet.    America which is the largest polluter in the world has for the past four years had a President who chooses to deny scientific evidence in favour of his short-term goals of stimulating the economy.

Learning to think Long-term in a Short-term World

Interestingly, it is in cultures which Western Society consider to be primitive that the long term habits of Ancestor Worship, as well as the concept or retaining the quality of our environment for the following seven successive generations, are practiced.   There is an urgent need for contemporary wisdom seekers to emulate these practices.

González Schuett suggests, “Maybe it’s for the environment, for the sustainability of future generations, for your personal finances, or for the sake of your peace of mind that you need to consider the implications of your habits of consumption for future generations.”

The Marshmallow Brain and the Acorn Brain

It is the Marshmallow Brain that makes us aware of our immediate emotional needs and the fulfillment of our most pressing desires.   However, it is the Acorn Brain which we associate with cognition that allow us to think long term.    Unfortunately the neoliberal philosophy which currently rules our politics and economics, allows the short term marshmallow brain to take priority over the long term acorn brain.

“Yet if we truly wish to become good ancestors, we need to expand our conception of legacy and think of it not just as a route to personal glory or as a bequest for our offspring, but as a practice of everyday life which benefits future people.   We can think of this as a transcendent ‘legacy mind-set’ where we aim to be remembered by the generations who we will never know, the universal strangers of the future,” says Roman Krznaric.


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