Who is the wisest person you know? What puts them at the top of your list? Really smart? Successful? Powerful and influential? Those are good possibilities but I suspect there's something else that causes you to think of them as wise.
People have been thinking about wisdom for a long time, actually a very long time. Aristotle and Socrates come to mind. Of course, there's Solomon, the wise king of Israel, who was world renowned for his wise sayings handed down to us in the book of Proverbs.
Social scientists have been studying wisdom for a few decades in an attempt to understand what it is, how it functions, and whether it's something we're just born with or if it can be developed.
Mark McMinn, professor of psychology at George Fox University, says,"So now we just need to figure out how people become wise.
Solomon was simply handed the divine gift of wisdom. How is that fair? The rest of us have to work for it. But what does that work look like?"
Indeed, what would that kind of work look like?
A good starting point is the definition. As you can imagine, there are many definitions to choose from. I'm tempted to take a cue from the poet Robert Frost who, when asked to define poetry said, "Poetry is the kind of thing poets write." True enough. I suppose wisdom is the kind of thing wise people possess.
One dictionary definition says wisdom is the "quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment."
Mark Twain, still quotable a century after his death, said "Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you would rather have talked." The noted British preacher, Charles Spurgeon, said, "Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. Many men know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom." Someone who was wise enough to remain anonymous said, "Knowledge is knowing what to say. Wisdom is knowing when to say it."
I could go on but, even with those humorous quotes, I think we're headed in the right direction. Wisdom is essentially practical. It is not only something we possess but something we do, even if the action takes the form of silence or restraint.
Returning to the three qualities cited in the dictionary definition, experience, knowledge and good judgment, they offer a good start but I think it's important to add empathy and humility to any description of wisdom. I agree wholeheartedly with Cristina Hartman who wrote,
"All the knowledge and critical thinking skills in the world count for nothing without the uniquely human touch of empathy. Empathy allows us to see the truth below facts and figures - the motivations underlying human action. That chip of humanity puts everything in perspective. We shouldn't aspire to be computers. We must aspire to be human."
As for humility, it's impossible to learn anything unless we're willing to admit we don't already know it all. The person who believes they're smarter than anyone else is . . . well . . . you know, not very wise. The book of Proverbs says, "When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom." The person who is humble is always learning and, whether they know it or not, are on the road to wisdom.
So, who is the wisest person you know? I bet they have ample amounts of knowledge and experience which they apply to life situations with good judgment tempered by both empathy and humility. That's how we should all aspire to live.