Path of Wisdom
Path of Wisdom

The Path of Wisdom

There are 65 short essays in my new book: Wisdom, Life’s Great Treasure. Below is the first essay in the book and really gives insight into the nature of wisdom. It is a bit longer than most of the other essays, but I think it will enable you to get a sense of what the book is about.

A peek inside my new book

In all of my research and studies throughout my career, I have been fascinated by the writings of many educators and thinkers, including those of Dr. Richard Light, the Carl H. Pforzheimer Professor of Teaching at Harvard Graduate School of Education. He wrote an article that appeared in a 2015 issue of The New York Times titled, “How to Live Wisely,” opening with an enlightening passage:

Imagine you are dean for a day. What is one actionable change you would implement to enhance the college experience on campus?

I have asked students this question for years. The answers can be eye-opening. A few years ago, the responses began to move away from “tweak the history course” or “change the way labs are structured.” A different commentary, about learning to live wisely, has emerged.

Reflecting on his words, it seems modern life is not working for these young people and they have no idea why. They recognize that we are not living wisely. Instead, we are following the present-day dictates of our culture, breaking down life in return.

I am hopeful that more individuals like these students are waking up to realize how important it is to learn how to live wisely, especially since wisdom is one of the greatest of all of life’s possessions. Yet, before we can do that, it’s important to understand the basic meaning of wisdom.

The word “wisdom” comes from the Hebrew word “chokmah” that literally translates to have “skill or expertise in living.”  This essential component of wisdom gives one the ability to see things as they really are and not just as they appear to be. This ability is vital to the foundation of wisdom, because we continually develop ideas explaining how our lives work as we move through various seasons of life. This diverse set of ideas governs our thinking, designating what the world is like and how we are to live in it.

Wisdom enables us to distinguish between those ideas in life that are true and those that are false.

Author, Stephen Covey contends that if people are truly going to lead healthy, vibrant lives, their ideas about life must be rooted in what is true. He shares a wonderful illustration, demonstrating the importance of this truth:

Suppose you wanted to arrive at a specific location in central Chicago. A street map of the city would be a great help to you in reaching your destination. But, suppose you were given the wrong map. Through a printing error, the map labeled “Chicago” was actually a map of Detroit. Can you imagine the frustration, the ineffectiveness of trying to reach your destination?

You might work on your behavior–you could try harder, be more diligent, double your speed. But, your efforts would only succeed in getting you to the wrong place faster.

You might work on your attitude–you could think more positively. You still wouldn’t get to the right place, but perhaps you wouldn’t care. Your attitude would be so positive, you’d be happy wherever you were.

The point is, you’d still be lost. The fundamental problem has nothing to do with your behavior or your attitude. It has everything to do with having the wrong map.

If you have the right map of Chicago, then diligence becomes important, and when you encounter frustrating obstacles along the way, then attitude can make a real difference. But, the first and most important requirement is the accuracy of the map.

I find this to be true in the lives of so many people. They attempt to live their lives with maps that are entirely inaccurate. They have false ideas about life, money, work, success, identity and happiness. What they do not realize is they interpret everything through these false maps–false ideas–that have mentally developed over the course of their lives.

Expanding on this notion, French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal, one of the most brilliant men to ever live, recognized something extraordinary. All human beings are on a great search for happiness, but most find it to be elusive. He strongly believed that unhappiness is a result of false beliefs on matters important for living a high quality of life. He contends that true happiness can only be found by uprooting false beliefs and replacing them with genuine wisdom.

The Age of Information Overload

We live in a time where we are flooded with information. Many people are convinced they have a real advantage in life when they have a great deal of knowledge. Yet, every day we read of highly educated fools who ruin their lives, businesses and families by making bad decisions. Often, it’s knowledgeable people who lack wisdom.

We fail to recognize that the quantity of what we know is not of ultimate importance. What matters is the quality of our knowledge, which is at the heart of wisdom.

Further supporting this view, Author Richard Foster shares that superficiality is the curse of the modern age. He contends that our desperate need is not for a greater number of intelligent or gifted people, but for a greater number of wiser people who have gained depth in their lives. He believes wisdom is the answer to a hollow world.

Unfortunately, much of today’s society dismisses the nature and value of wisdom to the point where it is no longer of real importance. For most of us, the distractions and frantic pace of a technological culture does not encourage deep thought, reflection or introspection.

Furthermore, much of the population feels the ultimate outcome of their lives depends on the moral choices they make. If they make good moral choices, then life is good. And certainly, bad moral choices can destroy one’s life. But, this is only partially true. Wisdom deals with true clarity in our thinking, and this is why we treasure it. It is much more than just being moral and good.

Wisdom is knowing what to do and not just in moral situations. As a matter of fact, wisdom applies in the vast majority of life’s situations, where moral rules have only nominal application. The first time I read this thought, developed by Tim Keller, I was grateful for his remarkable gift of insight. He contends that most of the choices and decisions we make are not specifically moral choices.

For example, the following are a few of the pivotal but not essentially moral-driven issues in our lives:

  • Career choice or change
  • Marriage choice
  • Dealing with your teenager
  • Financial decisions
  • Investment decisions

Questions we may ask include:

  • Should I confront someone? What should I say?
  • Should I take this risk?
  • How should I spend my time?
  • What are my priorities?

Wisdom provides insight into the true nature of things–both physical and spiritual reality. It allows us to grow in competence as we respond to the realities of life. Wisdom is knowing how things truly work and why things happen, and then knowing what to do about it.

God’s Design for Life

It is imperative to recognize that there is a pattern or fabric in all reality. Life is governed by certain laws and principles. They are not “good”, “bad”, “moral” or “immoral,” they are simply true. What is crucial for us to grasp is that these principles actually make life predictable. Such an understanding creates the potential for certain outcomes in our lives. Most significantly, our lives will flourish when they are in harmony with these principles.

Covey puts it like this:

Principles always have natural consequences attached to them. There are positive consequences when we live in harmony with the principles. There are negative consequences when we ignore them. But, because these principles apply to everyone, whether or not they are aware, this limitation is universal. And the more we know of correct principles, the greater is our ability to live wisely. By centering our lives on timeless, unchanging principles, we create a fundamental paradigm of effective living.

Covey is clear that you cannot violate these fundamental principles with impunity. Whether we believe in them or not, these unchanging principles have proven to be valid throughout all of human history.

If you like what you have read, why not order WISDOM Lifes Greatest Treasure?

Wisdom - order book


Add grace and understanding to your day with words from Richard E. Simmons III in your inbox. Sign-up for weekly email with the latest blog post, podcast, and quote.

Fill out the form to receive wisdom in your inbox from Richard E. Simmons III.