QA 24. (Aug 10) A word to the (would-be) wise

This is the original version of an article published as “A formula for wisdom” in Psychologies (South Africa), August–September 2010

Every society venerates the wisdom of its elders, at least in principle. Wisdom is seen as a consolation for the physical decline of age and the approach of death. And although not every old person is wise (and not every wise person is old), it is partly wisdom that distinguishes elders from those who are merely elderly.

It seems clear that wisdom is something we should want more of, particularly here and now. And not just for our own sakes. For better or worse, disease, violence and tumultuous social and technological change have ruptured the traditional passage of wisdom across generations. So how do we get it?

Confucius has a very concise and helpful answer: There are three methods to gaining wisdom. The first is reflection, which is the highest. The second is imitation, which is the easiest. The third is experience, which is the bitterest. Read more