Wisdom - Definitions and Skills of Virtue
Today we are going to explore the basic definition, and skills of wisdom and virtuous living.
My definition for wisdom is virtuous skill in living.
Wisdom = Virtuous skill in living.
Let's break this definition down:
Virtues = Consistent behavior with high moral standards. Skillful character
Being cunning is not Wisdom.
Someone may be skilled at taking advantage of other people. They may be a master manipulator, or incredibly good at controlling and using people to get their own way. We probably all know someone with great charisma and skill with people who are basically selfish and out for themselves and believe that the end justifies the means.
Skillful exploitation of people is never wisdom. Using authority for selfish gain always leads to hurting others, to poverty, and suffering. Yes, this may have short term gain for the individual, but never leads to flourishing in the long run. Exploiting others never gives peace, serenity, or hope. It leads to fear, anger, and arrogance. And taking from others never adds up to enough.
So wisdom must be virtuous. To have virtue, you must act for the good of the community. If your actions are not in some way helpful to others then they are not good.
Virtue ethics is a kind of philosophy that asks what are virtues?, and to a lesser degree, how do we grow in them? Aristotle is the most famous of the early virtue ethicists. Thomas Aquinas continued and refined this. Many since these great thinkers have reflected on virtue. Today, I'll share some of the top virtues that I think are most important to living the good life.
But too often philosophy fails us and stays merely as an intellectual exercise. Wisdom is not high-minded irrelevant navel gazing. This isn’t about the esoteric ivory tower of academia where reputation and politics play into what and how things are studied more than what matters: how people live their lives, and what kind of person they are becoming.
Virtues are skills, or relatively stable characteristics or traits that shape one's life. There are many virtues that lead to a life of character, love, and wisdom. Here are a few important, albeit not exhaustive list of virtues:
Kindness, generosity, friendship, patience, hope, prudence, simplicity, self control, humility, self sacrifice, faithfulness, truthfulness, hope, emotional and social intelligence, curiosity, rational thinking, and creativity.
Without these virtues, friendships turn to bitter rivalry. Without these virtues, marriages will not last. Families fall apart. Without these virtues, boys and girls will not mature, and people will suffer, and become hateful. Without these virtues humanity cannot survive, let alone thrive.
Skill - the ability to do something well; expertise.
The exciting truth is not just that wisdom is valuable but that wisdom can be learned. You can grow in wisdom. Like any craft, wisdom is a skill that can be practiced and you can improve in your skills over time. For many people wisdom has remained as an ethereal, seemingly unreachable destination, something for other people, not relevant, or merely for the old who aren't deeply engaged in life.
Not only can wisdom be learned, anyone can grow in wisdom. Yes, you can learn and grow in wisdom. In order to effectively become wise it takes desire and an intentional practice. In my work I’ve set out to help you do just that.
What you do matters. Yes, of course what you think, is a part of wisdom. But if what you think doesn’t actually impact what you do, you aren’t really wise. So wisdom must ultimately be viewed in light of what we actually do. How we live over time.
If we have great skill at something but it harms others and creates more suffering, we aren’t wise.
Wisdom is about both contemplation and action. It’s about gaining a thoughtful perspective and then acting upon it.
How you think is a skill.
How you think is a skill that can be developed.
Developing mental models of how things work is a powerful way to improve your thinking.
Reflecting on and improving the language of your life can change your thinking. Without reflecting on and giving words to your experiences, you can miss out on creating deeper meaning, and fall victim to your experiences.
Thoughts and choices create a cycle. Thoughts lead to choices, which determine actions, which lead to habits, which lead to the destiny of one's life. You reap what you sow.
What you notice is part of what you think. Without awareness you will be limited in your ability to change how you think. Developing the skill of awareness will improve your thinking, and your life.
How you live impacts how you think.
Sometimes, before you change your thinking, you must suspend your thoughts and just take action. That new behavior then can change your thinking over time. Sometimes it takes new ways of doing things before your thinking will be deeply transformed.
What information, media, and experiences do you choose to have? You have a choice in what you do, what entertainment you consume, what you read, what you listen to. Your mind is like a well, what you fill it with determines what you will draw out of it. If you fill your well with a bubbling cauldron of fear, ferment, or shallow frivvalty, you will produce toxic water to yourself and others. Fill your well with the sweet water of gratitude, beauty, and truth, and you will draw forth creativity, generosity, and peace.
Who you know impacts how you think. Do the people you surround yourself with act the way you wish you acted? This is true of who you surround yourself in person, and digitally. Be very careful who you let influence you.
Living - not one-time acts of failure or triumph, or rare acts of kindness. A life well-lived.