Four Myths About Wisdom
Wisdom can be an ambiguous subject clouding our perception with myths and false interpretations. It is time to approach these myths head-on in order to clear our mind and create more room to let our wisdom grow.
Myth #1: Human beings cannot be wise
Not true. Wisdom is an innate human quality we all possess. We can develop it just as any other human quality. This myth is often kept alive in religious communities where total submission to an all-wise Supreme Being is being preached.
There is nothing wrong in accepting divine wisdom as the source of all wisdom but that doesn’t mean human beings lack any kind of wisdom at all. I believe a major reason why we are here on this planet is to learn and grow wiser from all our experiences.
I agree that our world is far from perfect and that we make a lot of mistakes. But that is exactly the reason why we need to grow more wisdom and why we need to develop wiser leaders.
Taking more responsibility for any lack of wisdom is a wise thing to do but not by degrading ourselves as fools and sinners. Instead, we should face our myths and stop believing in them.
Myth #2: Intelligence is wisdom
It is a fallacy to believe only intelligent people are wise. This myth is some kind of inheritance from ancient times and it still endures in modern stereotypes about wise people, like the three kings in the Christmas story or the ‘holy’ men with white beards and long robes in many cultures around the world.
Intelligent people may have well-developed general knowledge or may even be learned or erudite, but that doesn’t make them wise. Wisdom comes from profound self-reflection and learning from our life experiences. It comes from putting our insights into everyday practice and that is something we all can do.
That is why women can be just as wise as men, children can be just as wise as adults and illiterate men and women can be just as wise as any educated elite. Wisdom is the great equalizer and connector between all people, no matter where they live or what they do.
Myth #3: Talking about wisdom is arrogant
A false sense of modesty seems to be prevalent in some countries related to talking about wisdom. People are supposed to keep it for themselves or face the consequence of being called arrogant.
Self-knowledge has nothing to do with arrogance as it comes from overestimating your qualities or social position in relation to other people. Sincere self-reflection always leads to putting things into their proper perspective and hence it leads to true modesty. It will immediately teach us a simple truth: we are never wise enough as we will always continue experiencing and learning.
But modesty is no excuse to stop talking about wisdom. To grow a little wiser every day requires a regular exchange of life experiences and deep-level insights between people in general and leaders in particular. If we truly want our leaders to take wiser decisions, we need to put wisdom high on their agenda.
Myth #4: Wisdom is impractical
It is not true either. Wisdom may be an abstract concept but it has a huge impact on our everyday behavior. It has practical implications for our moral awareness and ethical decisions in all our private and professional relationships.
It has an impact on our sense of social justice, our acceptance of social diversity, and the grooming of our intercultural skills in an interconnected world. It impacts our sense of responsibility for all our financial-economic behavior in relation to global sustainability and prosperity. The nefarious state of our world may be a clear indication of the presence of this myth. That needs to change.
Wisdom is not the playground of philosophers, scholars, or any social or religious elite. Discussing wisdom should not be confined to ‘temples’ of knowledge, worship, or power. Instead, it should be incorporated into all decision-making in any organization.
Believing in myths is the greatest barrier to growing wiser indeed. To address them first is essential to accelerate the development of wiser leadership in order to solve the complex problems we face today in any fundamental and long-term way.
To conclude, wisdom is not a competition. The term ‘wiser leaders’ does not refer to people who are wiser than other leaders. All it does is to indicate they are wiser than yesterday because wisdom is a never ending process of experiencing, reflecting, and learning. And that is true for all of us.
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Author: Daniel Le Gras
Date: 8 January 2023
Permission to download or copy this article is granted for private use only.
Please cite this article as: Le Gras, D. (2022). Four Myths About Wisdom. Institute for Governance & Leadership, Amersfoort, The Netherlands. www.igl.institute.