By Elle Allison Napolitano, October, 2014
Copyright © 2014 All Rights Reserved
When people think of wisdom, they often think of the great ones—people who have influenced positive change on a large scale: Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa—Oprah. All well and good but not without a downside: comparing ourselves to these incredible individuals puts wisdom high on a daunting mountain, out of reach for most of us who by comparison, resolve the vicissitudes of life untidily, only occasionally with the elegance associated with great wisdom. Adding to the perception that wisdom is rare and unattainable are the experts who insist it is a by product of a certain set of undefinable life experiences, undergirded by pinnacle qualities—humility, curiosity, grace, and compassion, for example—that never waver, never fail.
But this is my question: Since when did wisdom become synonymous with perfection? Even the great Wise Ones—Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa and Oprah—would blush at any suggestion that they were not plagued often by misgivings, regret, loss, angst and yes, even episodes of pure foolishness. They might even agree with 18th Century writer and feminist, Lady Mary Wortley Montague, who said, “To my extreme mortification, I grow wiser everyday.”
It’s not that I disagree with prevailing definitions of wisdom—most of which point to it being a practical application of knowledge designed to make things turn out well not just for oneself, but for a greater good. But I do disagree with implications that wisdom is largely unattainable, an elitist viewpoint that deprives us of even the possibility of wisdom—a perspective that seems very unwise indeed. Nor do I support fear mongering ideas that our society has diminished capacity for wisdom—a view that marginalizes the up and coming generations that are hell bent on making the world a better place (Check out these links for examples: http://www.forbes.com/special-report/2014/30-under-30/social-entrepreneurs.html, http://www.toms.com/one-for-one-en, and http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/26/young-people-who-did-amazing-things-2013_n_4494443.html).
Don’t be discouraged from the path toward wisdom! To do so is to rob yourself of a really great way of living your life. In a world that needs more wisdom, more people solving problems with an eye for making things turn out well for more people, and for longer into the future, we need more people believing they can be wise.
Elle Allison Napolitano is founder and president of Wisdom Out. We provide processes, tools, and protocols to help people and organizations transform adversity into growth.
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