How Can We Act with a Little More Wisdom?
Who do you know that’s wise? What makes you think of them that way? For me, this person was my grandfather, Antonio. Although I only knew my grandfather when I was a kid – he passed away when I was around 12 years old – he had a profound impact on me. I wanted to emulate my grandfather, but I couldn’t identify exactly why at such a young age. I only knew I liked him… and everyone around him seemed to like him too.
When thinking about my grandfather as an adult, I started identifying the things I admired about him. My dearest memories of him all share a common feature: how he treated others and how they responded to him. He seemed to engage in simple daily actions that had a positive effect on the people around him. My grandfather was a dentist. Over the weekends, he provided free dental care to families with fewer resources. During these visits, he’d often listen to other people’s concerns and provide practical solutions for their problems.
Similarly, when you think about someone you consider wise – a person close to you, a person you admire, or a fictional character in a book – most likely, you are thinking about the actions they took in a particular situation and the outcome those actions produced. These examples show that “wisdom” is only demonstrated through actions and their effects — wisdom is a descriptive term. They also show some complications with determining whether certain actions will be “wise.”
We could take a taxonomical approach to define wise acting. Accordingly, a list of actions would be prescribed to show that a person is wise — like following a recipe. But determining the right thing to do is not that simple, context matters in wise acting. The same action across two different contexts is very likely to have a different effect. Giving feedback to a dear friend when others are around, and your friend is in distress will not be received well and is likely to cause more harm than good. And yet, the same feedback could lead to positive changes for your friend if you have established trust and it is given in private and at the right time. Oh, what a difference the context makes….
So, how can we decide if our actions are wise? Since the outcome of an action is a critical aspect in determining whether it is wise, we can only assess after the fact. Therefore, developing skills to analyze what influences our actions and how those actions affect others is a key element in wise acting. We should develop a contextual and objective approach to analyzing how we act. We should work to acquire practical knowledge and be committed to acting in a way that is aligned with our values and the way we would like to show up. We should work to advance and protect the rights of people in need and assess our aggregate effects as individuals and as a culture.
Each of us must take action to make the world a better place because our welfare and future depend on our individual and collective contributions.
Learn more about wisdom in this book. Assess your effects and actions on others. Learn how you can build a better world. Watch the ripple effect.