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.


Merely a short half year ago, the Zoom Room was foreign territory to me.   Now, it is an integral and important area of my daily attention, offering me many hours of challenge and entertainment.   It has been an amazing personal transformation.   New insights, new people, new conversations and new concepts have become part of my daily routine.   Never before have I felt so connected.

I now have two social circles; two sets of friends.   The group with whom I interact physically has become augmented with a new group of ‘virtual friends.’   You will be learning about a few of them later in this blog!

Friendship and Human Connection

In evolutionary terms, the earliest socialisations took place on the plains of Africa.   Other than one’s close kin, further contacts would be made by travelling to meet people on foot.    Subsequently the possibilities for human communications became wider with the introduction of varying transport modalities such as bicycle, car, ship and plane.  Social interactions would have initially taken place in caves, or primitive buildings and later in modern homes and offices.   Within the conditions of the lock-down necessitated by Covid-19, electronic digital communication has become an integral part of the day.   Whilst I sit in my private exclusive space my social life is enhanced, my educational possibilities are extended, and my entertainment opportunities have widened.

I am going to share with you some of the resources which have enriched my life during the past 6 months.

One World in Dialogue

This organisation was created in 2015 by Elizabeth Debold with her partner Thomas Steininger to develop a living global network of change-makers and activists committed to deep dialogue.   The aim is to create new approaches and collaborations to support positive social change.

During April they offered a free online course for people working in the field of counselling on how to conduct their work in the Zoom room.   During this 4 day, 16 hour course we examined the nuances of leading conversations in this new format.   How to optimally personalise our interactions in this exciting new space.   How to master the nuances of interacting with the screen image of our fellow learners and future clients

A Golden Civilisation

George Kinder introduced me to this unique methodology for leading powerful collaborative conversations.    His powerful imaginary workshop starts with an imaginary exercise.   Participants are challenged to imagine the conditions of a Golden Civilisation which exists 1000 generations in the future.  A society in which each individual can maximise his personal potential under optimal conditions.   How does it look and feel?   Imagine the ideal way of governing for such a group.    How would the economy be managed?   What type of social interactions would be encouraged?   And, what obstacles would stand in the way?   These Golden Civilisation conversations are taking place all over the world, enabling participants to take the first steps in moving towards a more inclusive society.

Ubuntu Labs

Weekly meetings with this organisation, over the course of two months allowed me to meet leaders throughout Africa and share ideas about the philosophical concept of Ubuntu.   We discussed in small groups how this profound concept can be used for developing our continent during the time ahead.

Ubuntu is essentially about togetherness, and how all of our actions have an impact on others, and on society. It is the common thread of the UN’s Global Goals, and the motivation in the mission to end extreme poverty — so that everyone, everywhere, can live equally.”

This beautiful concept is so important in a Post Covid Era.  Since the time of the Enlightenment, there has been an emphasis in Western Society on promoting individualism.  I believe that the time has come for this selfish concept to be exchanged for an approach which values the needs of each individual in society.

Climate Reality

My interest in Climate Activism peaked last weekend when I participated in 24 hours of activism promoted by Climate Reality In my presentation on Zoom, I explored my new passion.  The need to play my part in educating myself, together with my peers, on the new habits we need to adopt if we are to save the planet from total climate catastrophe.  This reduction in our consumption is urgent.  We need to change from an economy of maximum growth to one of sustainable longevity.  A society in which the Gross National Product (GNP) is not the criterion for success, but one in which wealth is far more equally distributed among the population.

Pass It On Network

This grassroots network allows older people all over the world to find ways to expand their interests whilst thriving with the challenges of longer lives.  I have interacted with this group over a number of years and made many fruitful contacts.

However this month, I participated in a mind expanding on-line course on Digital Technology.  I learned how to keep my passwords safe, deal with the false news of social networks and feel comfortable using the tools which allow me to share files and multiple other resources when working on line.

Ted Circles

I recruited participants for this initiative through the University of the Third Age.   We now meet on zoom for regular fortnightly discussions.   Together we analyse a Ted video recommended by the facilitators of Ted Circles.   This new set of virtual friends from Cape Town, the city in which I live, have allowed me to participate in rich conversations which have deepened my understanding of the TED videos.

In Conclusion

A new collaborative lifestyle is emerging.   It is exciting, vigorous and full of further potential.   Who would like to join me on the journey?    Let me know if you would like to participate in a group I plan to facilitate.   We will work together discussing ideas on how to build a carbon free and just society.   I look forward to hearing from you.