What is wisdom?
It is essentially the ability to discern right action and take right action. When King Solomon, often considered the wisest man to ever live, prayed to God for wisdom, God told him he had asked for, “understanding to discern what is right.” (1 Kings 3:11). He gave Solomon the ability to “discern good from evil” (1 Kings 3:9) and take the best action to help not only himself, but also his people.
What Does Wisdom Require?
Wisdom grows from experience. When you have an experience and you process and understand it, you gain wisdom from it.
As such, it requires a deep humility. You need an understanding that you don’t know everything, either about yourself or about life or about the people with whom you’re interacting. You need a learner’s mindset to get the most from the experiences of your life.
Even more than that, a wise person has a bone-deep understanding of the fact that you and everyone around you has the same immeasurable and intrinsic worth. You are worth the same as anyone else, not more and not less. When Solomon prayed to be wise, he couched his prayer in a deep desire to do right for his people. He did not consider himself better than them, even though he was their king. Rather, he considered them to have incalculable worth of their own.
So why does wisdom matter?
Wisdom Helps Us to Respond Rather Than React
The difference between responding and reacting is simple. When you respond, you’re taking what your spirit tells you is right action. When you react, you’re letting your ego run the show.
Let’s say that your wife tells you that you spend too many hours at the office and she misses you. A reaction might be to lash out at her out of wounded pride. A response would be to listen to her and work to craft a solution that meets both of your needs.
When we react to a situation, we hurt ourselves and others. We lash out, burn bridges, and dump our emotional triggers on other people instead of handling them internally. Reacting to a situation makes our internal landscape worse, because it causes guilt and regret and anger and pain. Reacting also makes our external lives worse, by hurting our relationships with others. And finally, reacting has a high probability of hurting others.
Reacting essentially means: to take action without letting wisdom inform your action. He who lacks wisdom in a given moment is reactive in that moment.
A wise person has the strength and the courage to respond rather than to react. The (often painful) experiences that go into becoming wise grant us perspective. The ego thinks that every problem is like the bite of a great white shark: it requires instant, angry, defensive action to relieve the pain. But perspective shows us that most problems are small, and even the larger problems are generally not life-threatening.
This helps us to see most problems as more like the bite of a puppy; they may not be pleasant, but they’re not life-threatening and they don’t require an immediate defensive reaction. This sense of perspective that wisdom brings can help us take a step back and deal with problems constructively rather than reactively.
It is also important because it helps us discern the right action to take. If you’re fighting with your partner, then the right action can resolve the conflict in a way that makes both peoples’ lives better. The wrong action can sow discord and animosity. The same is true if you’re debating leaving your job, considering buying a house, or dealing with a child throwing a tantrum. The right action will help yourself and the people close to you, and the wrong action can hurt yourself and the people close to you.
By accumulating experiences and by actively processing those experiences, you can develop a deep well of wisdom that informs your life choices and helps you take the right action.
Wisdom Helps Us Use the Powerful Tools of the 21st Century Well
In an interview with Valuetainment, clinical psychologist and former Harvard professor Jordan Peterson talks about the tremendous power of social media to harm ourselves and others.
One study, published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, looked at 143 students at the University of Pennsylvania to identify whether or not social media use was driving loneliness, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. The study put these students into two groups–one was told to keep using social media the same way they always had, and the second group reduced their social media time to 30 minutes per day. The second group saw substantial improvements in their mental health.
“What we found overall is that if you use less social media, you are actually less depressed and less lonely, meaning that the decreased social media use is what causes that qualitative shift in your well-being,” said Jordyn Young, a co-author of the paper and a senior at the University of Pennsylvania.
Social media lets us hurt ourselves–often without knowing it consciously–by making us more depressed and lonely. It also gives us powerful weapons with which to hurt others.
In his bestselling book The Coddling of the American Mind, social psychologist and New York University professor Jonathan Haidt discusses how teenagers–especially teenage girls–can weaponize social media to hurt peers. Haidt argues that teenagers–especially girls–suffer from what he calls FOBLO, Fear of Being Left Out. Social media lets bullies prey on this fear, for instance by posting pictures of a party on Facebook that they know will be seen by the girls who are not invited. Haidt hypothesizes that this is one reason that depression and suicidal attempts by teenage girls have both skyrocketed in the years since social media became widespread.
However, social media can also be prosocial. Nonprofits use social media to attract donations and raise awareness of the good they do. Facebook groups around mental health (like Mental Health Awareness and Support, with 136,000 members) provide a venue for people who struggle with mental health issues to share advice and receive support.
What’s the difference between using social media to hurt ourselves and hurt others, vs using social media to help ourselves and make the world a better place? Wisdom is the principle difference. Being wise is important because it helps us discern the right action and use these incredibly powerful tools for good rather than in service of our egos.
Wisdom Helps Us Become Tribal Elders
As men, we naturally want to grow into tribal elders and pass on advice to younger men to help them live their best lives.
Sagacity is essential to being able to do this. We can’t just pass on knowledge to the next generation; while knowledge is important, knowledge divorced from experience (facts and statistics, for instance) does not constitute helpful life advice. And even the knowledge that could be helpful is already at young men’s fingertips due to Google.
Instead, wise people pass on what they’ve learned through their life experience. For instance, in his bestselling book Twelve Rules for Life, Jordan Peterson discusses a rule that he and his wife have. When they’re in the middle of a fight, they will go into separate rooms and each will identify every way–large or small–that they themselves contributed to the fight. Then they’ll share what they came up with with each other. This rule helps them preserve peace in their marriage.
This is wisdom learned through life experience, which Peterson is passing down to the next generation.
Wisdom is important because it is highly useful, and the learnings of wise people (tribal elders) is something that young men crave and need. However, it’s not easy to find–a simple Google search won’t do the trick. Cultivating wisdom gives us something meaningful to pass on to the next generation of men.
Cultivating Wisdom In Your Own Life
At The Evolving Man, we help men to cultivate wisdom. We build healthy, masculine men with a deep body of wisdom they can draw on whenever they need to.
Our online men’s groups put you in a group with other men who are working to build the best version of themselves. Our two leaders are tribal elders with twenty years of experience helping men live into their purpose.
If you’d like to join a men’s group and surround yourself with masculine men who understand the importance of growing in wisdom, reach out today.