Looking more in depth at Stoicism leads us to the virtues they valued. None of them are all that popular today, starting with wisdom.
This is a much misused and maligned word. It’s meaning seems to be difficult to pin down, but we know wisdom when we see it.
Or it would be good if we did.
So what is wisdom?
I am not sure I get to corner the market on defining it, but I see wisdom in many things.
I see it in knowledge that goes beyond “book smarts”.
It was a shock to my system when I started noticing that many of the most well-educated people I’ve met are also among the most foolish and dysfunctional. Degrees and books don’t make a person wise. Ten years in academic settings has actually made wonder if there is an inverse relationship there.
Wisdom and good character go hand-in-hand for some reason.
I am not sure which one creates the other, but I suspect it works in a sort of self-reinforcing loop. A little bit of wisdom leads us toward good character and good character leads us toward wisdom. They feed off each other until we have a very wise person sitting in front of us.
I do not believe a person can be wise and of bad character.
Maybe this is what has led wisdom to being a virtue that many disregard. I think we’ve come to a place where we see it as antiquated or unnecessary. Maybe we see it as judgmental or rigid since it requires something of us and the people around us (if we truly care about them). We have created a culture that rewards smart people with bad character, we prize someone who is clever and unscrupulous. People we would have exiled from the tribe or simply killed in the past thrive in our current social structure.
Wisdom implies experience.
There is a depth to the understanding of a wise person that can only come from having lived their truth, from having steeped in it until it settles into their bones. This cannot be pulled from books or lectures or online courses. It is probably another reason wisdom is out of fashion: we like our information in the form of top ten lists, and we get annoyed if we have to click to another page for each bullet point. We have been taught to like microwaves, not slow-cookers.
So wisdom is hard to define, but easy to recognize when we see it, if we are really looking. It is something that someone can fake, but not for very long. Their lack of wisdom will be revealed somehow: through their actions, their relationships, what they do under stress, how they treat the people below them, how they use their time, how they deal with anger. Something will cause the mask to slip.
Wisdom is a total way of being, you cannot pretend to it for very long.
There is one thing I know for certain about wisdom, and that is that I am lacking it in very many places. I am fortunate, however, to have many wise people near me who offer guidance and advice, and tell me when I am headed in the wrong direction.
I suppose the wisest thing I can do is to listen to them.