I’ve written about wisdom before, concluding “I consider the loss of certainty a sign of wisdom.”
As it turns out, I’m not alone. Tucked away in an Economist article earlier this month were these nuggets of wisdom:
“Psychologists consider [these the] five crucial aspects of wise reasoning: willingness to seek opportunities to resolve conflict; willingness to search for compromise; recognition of the limits of personal knowledge; awareness that more than one perspective on a problem can exist; and appreciation of the fact that things may get worse before they get better.”
Loss of certainty represents a thread that ties all five components together. For example:
1) Willingness to seek opportunities to resolve conflict
2) Willingness to search for compromise
When your worldview is full of certainty, your self-righteousness will lead to intolerance and conflict. In fact, to be logically self-consistent, it ought too–if you know that you’re right and someone else is wrong, compromise harms both parties. In other words, you may need to destroy the village in order to save it.
3) Recognition of the limits of personal knowledge
Once you realize how little you know, it’s hard to feel a sense of certainty about issues, since they are almost more complicated than our limited understanding would lead us to believe.
4) Awareness that more than one perspective on a problem can exist
Accepting ambiguity is key to productive engagement with alternate viewpoints; seek first to understand, then to be understood.
5) Appreciation of the fact that things may get worse before they get better.
I’ll close with a quotation from perhaps the wisest man that ever lived, Abraham Lincoln. The words come from a speech he gave in 1859 to, of all people, the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society.
It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: “And this, too, shall pass away.” How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! — how consoling in the depths of affliction! “And this, too, shall pass away.” And yet let us hope it is not quite true. Let us hope, rather, that by the best cultivation of the physical world, beneath and around us; and the intellectual and moral world within us, we shall secure an individual, social, and political prosperity and happiness, whose course shall be onward and upward, and which, while the earth endures, shall not pass away.