I have a friend who got a PhD based on a thesis about wisdom. Where do you find it? Can it be taught? She traveled worldwide, Lapland, Kenya, Japan, deep south of US, etc. asking who was considered wise in varying cultures and then interviewing those people. She was looking for a commonality. What made people wise? What made others call someone wise?
No surprise, none of the people she interviewed considered himself/herself wise, not even Wangari Maathai, who had won the Nobel Peace Prize that same week. Most were surprised that they’d been nominated for her study. None were too busy to talk. All gave full attention to the questions being asked. The commonality? Without exception, they had all lived through difficult times, suffered enormous personal losses, and somehow risen above their own suffering to assume a life-affirming role in the lives of others.
For example, Wangari Maathai’s husband sued her for divorce in 1979 saying she was too strong-willed for a woman and he couldn’t control her. When she protested, saying it was a ruse to get her to quit her leadership of the Green Belt Movement, the judge sent her to jail for six months and told never to use her husband’s name again. It was assumed that without her husband’s income, she would be unable to continue her efforts against corrupt land practices in Kenya. In one of the hardest decisions of her life, when she was released from prison, she left her children in her husband’s care, and continued her efforts.
What wisdom did my friend find? The interviews ended without great nuggets of knowledge. Her candidates had no answers, claimed no special powers, most advocated no particular religion or lifestyle. Many, like Maathai, had causes, but felt no need to force their agenda on anyone. Most felt that right would prevail without resorting to hate or arms. Although they were not naive about the difficulty they had faced or would continue to face. Above all, they told stories. Lots and lots of wonderfully moving stories about themselves and others. Hard questions, it seems, don’t have answers. They have stories.
Oh, and they all laughed easily and often.