We learnt in Part 1 of ‘On Being Wise’ that wisdom is ultimately about how you understand human nature, the problems humans deal with and their solutions. This implies the need to understand first the rules that govern you and then the rules that govern human beings and societies in general. Yes, it all begins with how you understand and govern yourself. Counsellors are people who apply wisdom in their job. In a big survey they were asked what is the most important factor contributing to how they perform their job. The highest response was “my counselling experience with clients” but the second highest response was “the work I have done on myself”. Note that courses, seminars, university and supervision came after that.
How to act more wisely?
Reflect before reacting
I remember a tale I read in my childhood that had a great impact on me. A farmer came back home from the fields and saw his toddler lying on the floor crying, bleeding heavily, and bites all over his body. The farmer then noticed his dog sitting quietly in the corner with his face covered in blood. The farmer was so enraged that he took the gun and shot the dog. He rushed to the bathroom, carrying his child, and in the bathroom he found a wolf lying on the floor, bleeding to death from the bites of the loyal dog. Apparently the dog saved the life of the toddler.
Such reactivity indeed gets us all into trouble: in relationships and in our workplace. Contaminated filters in our automatic mind distorts the perception and meaning of reality. We operate on our preconditioned assumptions only to regret the consequences later. Your impulsiveness might be justified as ‘intuition’, ‘instinct’, ‘spontaneity’ or something else.
The most important skill of the wise is the ability to self-reflect, to be mindful, to be aware of what is going on inside: in your body, and in how you feel and think. This is essential if you are to keep an even temper and to activate the more advanced part of your brain.
In case you wonder how to practically go about it here is a simple yet powerful habit you want to integrate into your daily conversations – simply ask “What’s that?” or “What do you mean?”. The curious open mind is the antidote to the reactive mind.
Ask and consider various perspectives
To act wisely, you need to examine a situation from various points of view. You need to consider situational factors such as context, personalities, developmental phases, places and cultures. When you deal with a distressing problem, it is of course a real challenge. The pain is great, and you want to stop it sooner, not later. Sadly, this very pain often blurs our clear thinking and makes us race to a bad solution, resulting in greater pain down the track. It is a well documented phenomenon that anxiety makes people tunnel-vision. They ignore variety of options and perspectives. This is why in times of political or economical upheaval people tend to follow slogans that offer simple solutions.
The wise person will delve into the complexities of the situation, learn the root cause of the matter, and consider carefully the options and their consequences. Such consideration takes time and effort and it slows you down!.
“Fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people full of doubts”—Bertrand Russell.
The wise will start with ‘?’ before ‘!’. It is not as much about your knowledge as it is about the process. The wise embraces uncertainty and step into it with an inquisitive mind. This can be a real challenge at times of distress. Kahneman (‘Thinking fast and slow’) explains: “The voice of reason may be much fainter than the loud and clear voice of an erroneous intuition. Questioning your intuition is unpleasant when you face the stress of a big decision. More doubt is the last thing you want when you are in trouble”.
A hallmark of the wise is the ability to acknowledge with humility, not knowing. The wise is aware that it is easier to observe a minefield when you are not walking in it.
If you ever go through tough times and struggle with thinking clearly about your situation here is a practical tip for you – acknowledge humbly and with self compassion your limitations and ask for support from friends, experts or a counsellor. Receiving support from others is an essential skill of resilient people.
So make it a habit to utilise resources in your environment and don’t forget our modern most amazing resource – Dr Google! (oh will they rank me higher now?!…)