The most important truth for all humans to face up to is that, in the words of Frederick Nietzsche, we are not finished yet. We are not fully evolved. We are not perfect. Indeed, a lot of what we think and do is unevolved. We can do better. But what is better? To answer this is to become wise.
The way to become more evolved is to pursue wisdom. To become wise you need to be open to experience, open to learning, and open to getting better. The great thing is that people are happiest when they are evolving. To be wise is to understand what is right. For example, the right thing to think and do given the circumstances and the likely outcomes.
Humans’ arrogant attitude of specialness comes from our cleverness and our ability to manipulate. People might think that because they are good at something they should just keep doing that. Yes, we are good at manipulating things but are we good at understanding and taking responsibility for the negative impacts of our manipulations?
Wisdom is very much about understanding the big picture. Some think wisdom has to do with knowledge but this isn’t strictly true, wisdom is more about understanding. One way of looking at this is that it’s like the difference between the features and the benefits of a product. Features are like knowledge, they are the answers to what, when, how and who? Take a drill, features include it’s size, speed, power, torque etc. Features describe the object, what it is and what it does. Benefits are like understanding, they describe purpose and meaning, and the relationships between an object and the bigger picture. The purpose (or benefit) of a drill is to make a hole. The purpose of a hole is to hold a picture hook. The purpose of a picture hook is to hold a picture. The purpose of the picture can be any number of things and all of this is the ‘big picture’. Knowledge is about separate objects and events. Understanding is about the causal web that connects those objects and events. We know facts but we understand meaning.
One of the biggest problems in the contemporary world is that people have gained more and more specialised knowledge but less and less generalised knowledge. Specialised knowledge is for the purpose of manipulation. Generalised knowledge is for understanding.
The point is that people can know a huge amount and not be wise. The people who know a lot are likely to tell you how much they know. People who are wise would never tell you that. For one thing, since wise people understand the big picture, they are aware of how little they know. A wise person also understands that knowledge and understanding evolve and so they are never complete. For these reasons wisdom naturally fosters humility, not to mention prudence and precaution. It is not possible to be both arrogant and wise. Indeed, arrogant people are unwise and weak because they cannot face their ignorance.
In a sense then, the way to wisdom is to stay aware and always open to it. Don’t forget, we are not finished or fixed, we are still evolving.
“To attain knowledge, add things every day.
To attain wisdom, remove things every day.”
– Lao Tzu