How Do You Get Wisdom?
By: Christine Hammond LMHC
After spending an afternoon conversing with her grandfather, Stephanie realized for the first time just how wise he was. His insight was amazing. He showed compassion and patience towards frustrating family members without losing himself. His perception of world market economics was eerily precise for a person who never worked in that field. And his ability to pick up on small, yet significant, nuances without overexposing a person was almost an art form.
His wisdom was admirable, attractive, and enticing. For the first time in her life, Stephanie woke up to the benefits of being wise. Once obtained, she would stop wasting energy on things that don’t matter, know were and how to invest her time, stop exhausting herself emotionally, be more careful with how much she said and expressed to others, and reduce her obsessive thinking. Wisdom became something she sought after and desired.
But how does a person get wisdom? Are they born with it? Or does it only come with old age? So she decided to go back to her grandfather and ask him. It was ironic that he did not see himself as wise but rather as a person who gained some insight but still had so much more to discover. Nonetheless, he broke wisdom down into an equation that Stephanie could understand and explained each part.
Wisdom = (Knowledge + Understanding) Practice
- Knowledge: The foundation for wisdom is knowledge. Gaining it requires continued education about many areas of life, taking an interest in a variety of subjects, studying topics of interest in depth, and a willingness to embrace different sources of information gathering. There are multiple sources of knowledge. It can be visual through the reading of books, auditory in lectures, oral through conversational, kinesthetic through trial and error, and observational by watching nature and people. To be considered an expert in an area, it is said that a person needs 10,000 hours of study. So knowledge is not something that is obtained and never worked on again, rather it is an ongoing part of everyday life over a lifetime.
- Understanding: Having knowledge is a blessing but knowing what to do with that knowledge and how to use it is even more significant. It is understanding. A person with understanding knows when to interject and when to hold back, they know that they don’t know everything, they are willing to engage with differing points of view, and are unafraid of being wrong. Instead, they use those mistakes to look inside themselves and externally towards their environment to figure out what could be done differently in the future. With understanding comes an awareness of patterns in behavior without judgement or condemnation. It also brings a peace about knowing what can and cannot be controlled.
- Practice: The combination of knowledge and understanding is powerful by itself but in order to gain wisdom, these two areas must be practiced. It is not enough to have book knowledge about a subject and even understand intellectually when and how to use it if there is not an environment upon which to practice both. With practice comes the fine tuning of both knowledge and understanding. It is an essential element. This is where mistakes are frequently made and transformed back into gaining different knowledge and new understandings. Ideally, there would be an infinite exponent added to practice that indicates this is constantly ongoing.
- Wisdom: So wisdom does not exist by itself, it is an unending combination of knowledge, understanding and practice. This is why Stephanie’s grandfather did not see himself as being wise. He knew there was still more information he could learn, more accurate perception he could gain, and more time needed to explore his insights. Stephanie began to see wisdom as an ongoing process rather than an obtainable goal. It is like a muscle that must be used on a regular basis or it will atrophy. It is not like a trophy on a shelf that represents a one time achievement.
After the discussion about wisdom with her grandfather, Stephanie decided to incorporate the elements of wisdom into her everyday life. Knowing she needed some negotiating skills, she began by reading a book on the topic, discovering when to use her new tactics, and practicing them in benign situations before trying them out during a job interview. She quickly realized that the more knowledge, understanding, and practice she gained, the more she had room to grow.
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