Reynold Ruslan Feldman, Ph.D. - Author, Editor, Nonprofit Consultant, Wisdom Coach
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What Is Wisdom?

When I talk at schools about wisdom, I ask the students what they think the word means. Typical responses include "intelligence," "being smart," "being like Yoda," or "being someone like the Dalai Lama." "Pretty good," I respond, "but do you know where the word itself comes from?" Silence."OK. It comes from "wise" plus "dumb." Laughter. "So let's play a game," I continue: "Wise or dumb?" Then I ask questions like "Bringing home straight A's on your report card?" WISE! "Diving head first into an empty swimming pool?" DUMB!!! "All right. Now I need to apologize. I just did what no adult should ever do: I lied to you. Wisdom, the word, actually comes from the Latin visio, meaning 'vision,' 'sight' and the Old English deman (compare 'deem' in Modern English), meaning 'to decide or judge.' So our word wisdom ends up meaning (the capacity) to make decisions based on our seeing how things really stand. If you understand that working hard at school and getting good grades isn't only to please one's parents but to build a platform for a satisfying life, a young person may decide to be studious. Similarly, if one foresees the likely consequences of diving head first into an empty swimming pool, he or she will likely decide not to do it." In an early 21st-Century world characterized by the almighty bottomline and nearly incessant warfare, let's work to see how things really are and what's really important. Then let's make our decisions accordingly. In short, let's all commit to wising up. Blessings of the Season, RRF 

12 Comments to What Is Wisdom?:

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Jesse Weeks on Wednesday, December 22, 2010 7:58 PM
Congrats to you Ruslan! You're a blogger. Now about Wisdom. Agree on the vision thing. I think of wisdom as a quality of the soul, built via knowledge and life experience. And never static. I suppose wisdom always deepens, or expands, however you wish to see it. Levels upon levels of wisdom seem to open as we gain knowledge and experience and the ability to listen within. Wisdom's voice is soft. Calmer than knowledge and experience. In closing, when my father (then turning 75) complained about aging, I told him it was sage-ing. He replied, "I suppose I am wiser after all these years. However, I still do the same silly things I did when I was younger...only now I know better. Hmmph!" Congrats again Ruslan.
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Aliman on Wednesday, December 22, 2010 8:20 PM
Jesse, yes, it seems wisdom is connected with intuition and long experience. When a young person has what could be defined as wisdom, we tend to say they have keen intuitive insight. Once they hit their 50's and 60's, we tend to say they have wisdom. We've all seen "old souls" who, at 20 years old, seem to be wise beyond their years, but we don't generally call them wise. They don't yet have the requisite experience, that longness of the tooth, to be called wise. Aloha!


Reynold Ruslan on Thursday, December 23, 2010 12:16 PM
Thanks, all of you, for your comments. Stefan: Your response reminds me of R.D. Laing's '60s book, THE POLITICS OF EXPERIENCE. One of his main points is that so-called crazy people are sometimes seeing the reality that that so-called sane ones are missing. Since the former are out of the mainstream, though, they are ipso facto wrong--and nuts! (See also John Mack's last book on alien abductees for a similar point.) Interestingly, both Laing and Mack were M.D.s and psychiatrists. Jesse: I appreciate your thoughts and the example of your British dad, who went on to live a very long life. I disagree with Plato, who believed that if you knew the right thing to do, you would automatically do it. We may have the wisdom to know what's right but be unable to carry it out. Saints Paul and Augustine understood that wisdom and will were two rather distinct human capacities not always in synch with each other. Hugh: I appreciate your enthusiasm and will try to publish decent weekly blogs. My next one will be on "The Wisdom of Solomon?" And Aliman: Thanks for that wonderful illustration. I like the fact that "intuition" derives from the Latin "in" + "tuire"--to learn from within. Also, true (s)aging seems to have more to do with that of the self/soul/inner than the body. The concept of older and wiser is certainly balanced by "There's no fool like an old fool." The infant Dalai Lama simply knew which ritual objects had belonged to him in his prior incarnation as D.L. He knew it from within. So, I'd posit that "inner knowing" is "intuition." A wise person, or sage, however, is not a one-shot inner knower but someone who more often than not gets it right from within. So, a wise person would be someone who simply knows how things are and can decide accordingly more often than not. Thanks again, one and all, for your input. Aloha, RR


Aliman on Wednesday, December 22, 2010 8:07 PM
Hello Ruslan. Nice to see you here in cyberspace. Check out my blog (http://directspirit.wordpress.com) and my YT channel (http://www.youtube.com/user/directspirit). I use a story with my philosophy students to illustrate the difference between "wisdom" and "knowledge." Greg, a friend of mine many years ago in Detroit, the motor city, was an excellent mechanic. He was stymied, however, with a hard case. He had torn apart the motor of a car twice in an attempt to diagnose a problem. This is a very difficult three or four hour job. In part, wanted to determine if the intake manifold, deep in the engine, was the correct one. He even checked the part number stamped in the metal. It was the correct part. He finally took the car to some old mechanics, in their 80's, and they too were stumped after a few hours. "Yeah, this dad burn engine don't sound right, but ah can't see nuttin' wrong with it, son. Hail, I'm stumped." A while later, suddenly, one of the old guys stood up with a strange look in his eyes. He told Greg to start the motor and gun it. He leaned over the engine, sort of gazing off into space, adjusted his hearing aid a few times, moved back and adjusted it again. He then told Greg to shut the engine off, stood up, and made his pronouncement: "The intake manifold is the wrong size, son." Greg, irritated, and thinking the guy was a little senile as they had already discussed this at length, with Greg explaining how he had torn the engine apart twice, left the garage in disappointment. It's not the manifold, he insisted to himself. He had wasted several hours and came up empty handed. Two days later, in utter desperation, with the old guy's words echoing in his head, "...intake manifold...intake manifold..." he proceeded to tear the motor apart a third time. He removed the manifold and used a micrometer to measure the part. He checked the manual, and, to his complete dismay, the part was engineered wrong! This error was, literally, millions and millions to one odds against. Unbelievable! Suddenly he was in awe of the old mechanic. Greg had a vast amount of knowledge about cars, but this old guy had true wisdom. Wisdom and knowledge work hand-in-hand, but in a sense wisdom also transcends knowledge. Plato and Socrates had much to say about this, but that's for another post! Aloha!
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Hugh Lynn on Wednesday, December 22, 2010 9:37 PM
Great idea Reynold Ruslan! I am sure your words/and the stories will be of much benefit to everyone who reads them. God Bless, Hugh Lynn
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stefan on Wednesday, December 22, 2010 11:55 PM
I like the bogus origin of "wisdom" as "wise + dumb". Puts me in mind of "crazy wisdom" in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, "the wise fool" in Tarot and our Western stereotype of "the mad genius". Maybe certain people who appear crazy because they see things differently bring a great gift to human society.
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Jesse on Wednesday, January 19, 2011 1:50 PM
Stefan,

How fun. I am just revisiting after a couple of weeks absence...wanted to share with you that my personalized license plate is "WIZDUM". I am into the to be wise, one should allow a state of not knowing answers...but allowing them to emerge.

Ruslan, looks like you are on a roll. I'll look around again later.


elisabethsmith@nc.rr.com on Thursday, December 23, 2010 12:29 PM
Great thought. Yes, wisdom is a very essential ingredient to make this world a better place. Thanks for sharing YOUR wisdom.
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Aliman on Thursday, December 23, 2010 2:34 PM
Oh boy. Laing and the anti-psychiatry movement, while they have a good point that diagnosis is subjective and not scientifically objective in a strictly empirical sense, are, well, out to lunch. I won't argue it now, as I'm in the middle of a plethora of things at work. (Psychiatric work, BTW!) OK, briefly, Laing, et al. have a point, but they take it way too far. I was fascinated by Politics of Experience and other things like it when I read that stuff early 1980's, but after I got into the field I saw the reality of mental illness. I fully understand anti-psychiatry, and even had some leaning toward it years ago, but now I disagree with its conclusions. Aloha!
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