It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. ~ Henry David Thoreau
What does it mean to be wise?
We certainly have popular conceptions of wisdom. And it’s usually of some all-around well-adjusted sage. But it’s likely more compartmentalized than that.
We’re all a bit wise in some context (well, all Further readers at least). Which means that we can become wise in other areas with sufficient motivation.
In a new review in European Psychologist, Igor Grossman of the University of Waterloo argues that understanding wisdom involves taking the wise off their pedestal, and seeing wisdom as a set of processes that we can all tap into, with the right attitude, and in the right context.
So what is wisdom, anyway? It usually contains aspects of intellectual humility, a broadened perspective, the ability to compromise, and an understanding that change is inevitable.
One interesting aspect of the research was the use of psychological distancing techniques to increase wisdom. Stepping away from yourself, even to the point of referring to yourself in the third-person, can tamp down your ego and let you better see the truth.
It’s not quite right to say wisdom can be taught. It’s more accurate to say that wisdom can be proactively sought and achieved.
In other words, achieving wisdom happens through a series of personal projects. The things we’re intrinsically motivated to do that transcend who we were yesterday to become who we’re going to be next.
Most of all, it’s a journey. In many ways, this research simply confirms ancient truths:
Wisdom is a way, a path along which our thinking becomes proportionate, balanced, and expansive, and that it’s a journey enriched by company.
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Do What Works For You
The results of this study contribute to a large body of evidence indicating that, for weight loss, neither low-fat nor low-carb is superior, as long as there’s no difference in caloric or protein intake.
You likely couldn’t miss the breathless headlines from the last week that suggested drinking a couple of alcohol beverages a day will make you live longer (despite just a few months ago hearing that even that amount leads to a greater cancer risk). Odds are those drinks are tied to social behavior, which is an established key to greater longevity. Regardless, I had to go with this gem of a headline:
Since I’ve cut way back on meat, I seem to be obsessed with making sure I get enough protein. And yet, do I really need that much protein? If lifting weights, yes. But our protein obsession has gone well beyond that.
The health of your cells declines as you age, which could affect your overall well-being. Accordingly, a new field of research is booming: cellular health, and its link to your “healthspan” (which means the healthy, functional years of your life).
A large body of work suggests that being optimistic reaps a number of positive rewards, including better health and well-being. But what about the people who tend to see the glass as half empty rather than half full? The latest research suggests that some forms of pessimism may have benefits.
To paraphrase Fight Club (the book, not the movie): “Maybe self-esteem isn’t the answer, maybe self-clarity is the answer.”
On Second Thought …
Thinking is the most important thing I do … and I do a lot of it. That’s because I know it takes time to get to the right answer. As Albert Einstein said: “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”
Imagine having a mind that clings to nothing — it doesn’t get attached, it doesn’t need things to be a certain way, it doesn’t need people to behave in particular ways. It’s a mind at home everywhere, because it doesn’t need to be anywhere in particular.
A Poverty of Attention
I’ve been reading a lot more books lately, but it’s not as easy as it should be. Like the author of this piece, I thought a childhood filled with obsessive reading would protect me from the attentional changes that digital media has wrought. I’m somewhat relieved that I’m not alone in the struggle.
“We must never forget the joy of doing something slow and something difficult, the satisfaction of not doing what is easiest. The constellation of inconvenient choices may be all that stands between us and a life of total, efficient conformity.”
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