What Is Wisdom?

Wisdom is one of those qualities that is difficult to define—because it encompasses so much—but which people generally recognize when they encounter it. And it is encountered most obviously in the realm of decision-making. Psychologists tend to agree that wisdom involves an integration of knowledge, experience, and deep understanding that incorporates tolerance for the uncertainties of life as well as its ups and downs. There's an awareness of how things play out over time, and it confers a sense of balance. It can be acquired only through experience, but by itself, experience does not automatically confer wisdom. Only now are researchers beginning to look into the social, emotional, and cognitive processes that transmute experience into wisdom. Wise people generally share an optimism that life's problems can be solved and experience a certain amount of calm in facing difficult decisions. Intelligence—if only anyone could figure out exactly what it is—may be necessary for wisdom, but it definitely isn't sufficient; an ability to see the big picture, a sense of proportion, and considerable introspection also contribute to its development.

What Wise People Do Differently

Wisdom largely emerges from reflection on experience. Wisdom involves nuanced thinking, considering many different perspectives of a situation rather than employing black and white thinking. Wise people are also open to new ways of thinking, challenging the status quo to produce a novel or unexpected outcome. They also have considerable tolerance for uncertainty. Balance is a key component of wisdom as well. Wise people generally act on behalf of the common good but also ensure that their own needs are met, striving for harmony among competing demands and goals. Wise people may also seek to understand the motives of others, rather than merely judge their behavior. In addition to fostering understanding and respect of others, wisdom often provides a fulfilling sense of purpose in life.


Empathy, Self-Esteem, Cognition

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