Barefoot Corporate Warrior: Autumn 2022
“Grey hair is no guarantee of wisdom.”
Paul Bird explores virtuous wisdom and where to get it.
I’m not proud when it comes to the getting of wisdom.
Quotes from historical and political figures, artworks, poetry and literature (Shakespeare has a few), lyrics, self-help gurus, business figures, mantras, podcasts, yoga teachers and Tibetan monks, even billboards advertising; not to mention friends, family and colleagues – I seek wisdom where I can.
I am literally a ‘wisdom sponge’ – always seeking, always reading and listening, hoping for the jewel which unlocks some insight into how best to navigate this unfathomably infinite universe and the human world which we live in as a speck-within-a-speck.
If I feel a particular need for some solace or learning and the right kind of wisdom happens to come along, then it is fair prey for me.
When it comes to the right kind of wisdom, I am not talking about that world-weary observatory resignation which some call wisdom (and which really seems to be a negative energy-sapping criticism of the affairs of humankind). No, I am talking about the vibrant, alert and available wisdom of a Bernie Taupin or Paul McCartney in their prime lyrics-writing period.
I have been a collector of quotes and sayings over the years. Some come in handy for public speaking, others for conversation. Mostly they come in handy when life springs one of its surprises and for when confusion overrides lucidity.
Some sayings I keep on a more permanent or semi-permanent basis, others have a temporary shelf-life.
I have a habit of writing the wise sayings I want to recall as each year unfolds in a page at the front of my diary (yes, I still use a hard copy diary). I refer to these sayings as the year waxes and wanes – a reminder of what I want/need to remember as time passes.
Some sayings get a multi-year diary shelf life while others pass into history as each new year brings a new diary.
For me, it’s the resonance of the message at that specific time, depending on what is going on in my life and how aware I am of the internal movements of thought, emotion, spirit and body.
It’s also about who is delivering the wisdom. Am I drawn to that person? Has the wisdom been forged in life and borne of experiences, drama and pain?
Is the person delivering the alleged wisdom genuine and someone I can empathise with? Or is it simply the mouthings of a follower of fashion?
Does wisdom have to be verbal? Observing the simplicity and ‘newness’ of how animals live is a kind of physical wisdom which can teach us much.
I think many of us also struggle to define what we mean by wisdom but we know what it is when we see or hear it.
Definitions use words like experience, knowledge, common sense, sound judgement and understanding.
One of the best definitions came from a Tibetan monk. He said that when faced with a decision or dilemma, wisdom can come from either the head or the heart. Wisdom for him was knowing which one to choose in that moment. He also said that sometimes decisions that seem to be wise in the short-term can be revealed as unwise as unforeseen (or foreseen) consequences manifest from the initial decision or course of action.
I am always amazed at the wisdom of youth. While wisdom can be found coming from the mouths of babes, I am talking more about teenagers and those in their early twenties.
Much of this can be found in popular songs where lyrics expose a level of self-awareness and indeed a universal awareness that leaves me dumbfounded when I think of myself at the same age.
While the much-maligned ‘three-chord song’ which underpins many pop songs can sometimes be trite and simplistic, there are lyrics which explore deep themes which have bemused and fascinated our species for generations.
Just like the Top Ten, my wisdom needs change regularly. Key themes seem to emerge and fade as I bother the topic of connecting to the natural world, our place in the universe, or particular emotions which might be the focus of my energy for a variety of reasons.
When one embarks on a search for wisdom it becomes apparent that most of us spend our mental and emotional energy reinventing the wheel and that we are often stuck in a giant repeat cycle of questioning and emotional tumult.
Decisions are motivated by where we were at and what was happening at that time. The goal is to learn from decisions and the consequences in the hope that over time, the number of unwise decisions diminishes.
This is not guaranteed however.
Life is not an upwards continuum in the wisdom stakes. Our individual cycles of life bring a certain ebb and flow to our level of clarity and ability to make wise decisions and to act wisely.
We are just as capable of making an unwise decision at the age of 80 as we were at age 18. Timing can be everything when it comes to ‘wiseness’.
There are regressions also. I have felt at certain times that I have been in a wise ‘phase’, only to see myself stumble and fall at the next hurdle like a player in snakes-and-ladders.
Part of why we tend to repeat mistakes is that while it is well and good collecting wise sayings and song lyrics, this is all just fairy floss for the brain unless it can assist in changing the innate relationship we have with life.
We have to feel the wisdom and live it until it is part of us at every level.
Bringing learnings from the external hurly-burly to the internal hurly-burly where they become intrinsic to living seems difficult.
The wisdom of wisdom, therefore, is the transmutation from wise thought to wise life. That’s the trick.