Webster’s dictionary defines “wisdom” as “the quality of being wise … implies the ability to judge and deal with persons, situations, etc. rightly, based on a broad range of knowledge, experience and understanding.” In other words, a wise person is one who has the ability to look for the deeper meaning of things. But in order to acquire wisdom, one must have lived enough to have developed a depth of philosophical reflection. We are then in a position to evaluate our experiences and learn from them.
Some of our mistakes or as Maria Montesorri called them, “learning opportunities”—are clearer than others. Sometimes it seems that the world is full of people who will gladly inform us of our mistakes. The person who is willing to hear another’s point of view, and admit there may be other approaches he could have taken, is the one who will grow in wisdom as he grows in acquiring knowledge.
To become wise we must be willing to suspend our own beliefs about something, to set aside our prejudices, and to think with an open mind. We must be eager to branch out and learn in many different areas, even at the risk of being embarrassed or looking foolish. We must be willing to admit we don’t know everything and are willing to learn. We must see learning as a desirable process that may include making mistakes along the road to knowledge. True wisdom acknowledges that the more you learn about a subject, the more interesting it becomes and the more there is to learn!
It’s not uncommon for someone to say, “I learned my lesson! I’ll never do that again!” But all too rarely you may hear someone say, “That was a wonderful lesson. I’m glad it happened just the way it did, even though I was uncomfortable going through it. I now understand why I suffered, and I can change my behavior so I won’t make the same mistakes in the future.” This person is bravely admitting his own responsibility for creating the situation exactly the way it was. He recognizes he has choices, and that he can choose differently as long as he stays alert to each challenge, whether the challenge seems to be positive or negative.
By fearlessly confronting your own role in the experiences you judge as mistakes in your life, you can make your future experiences fruitful, and increase your wisdom.
The wise person is also a courageous person. We often think of courage in terms of outer forms of bravery—physical prowess and fearlessness in battle or in sports—yet there are many inner forms of bravery that are not recognized by anyone but ourselves as we struggle to over come our shortcomings. This willingness to look at ourselves honestly and courageously is the first and perhaps most important step we can take on the road to wisdom and personal empowerment.