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Not so conventional wisdom

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The latest science says if you want to live a satisfying life, age well and stave off loneliness and depression, you need what psychologists call wisdom.

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So, let’s look at what wisdom is, how you get it and why it’s so powerful. And, yes, there is a key spiritual element.

Though it’s hard to define, wisdom is a trait valued in every culture and in every time. It’s tied to knowledge and character and, best of all, it can be learned and enhanced. But, before I get to that, answer these questions about yourself on a scale of one to five, from strongly disagree to strongly agree:

  1. I remain calm under pressure.
  2. I avoid self-reflection.
  3. I enjoy being exposed to diverse viewpoints.
  4. I tend to postpone major decisions as long as I can.
  5. I often don’t know what to tell people when they come to me for advice.
  6. I avoid situations where I know my help will be needed.
  7. My spiritual belief gives me inner strength.

Why those questions developed by psychological experts are important will soon be clear. But let’s start with a definition of wisdom.

Being wise involves good judgment and sound advice in difficult or uncertain situations, especially when: making decisions; finding a moderate course that avoids extremes; and combining knowledge with a well-balanced mix of emotion, motivation, and understanding.

Research also says that, although you need intelligence for wisdom, it’s not enough. The truly wise must also have emotional balance, a recognition they don’t know it all, the ability to assess their true motives and character, and a grasp of the big picture.

Also, we have to cut our (wisdom) teeth on experience, which is the only way to gain discernment. Still, experience doesn’t automatically bring wisdom — some of us just make the same stupid mistakes over and over.

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Experts say wisdom only comes when we honestly evaluate ourselves and what we’ve been through; when we scrap a black-and-white view and see there are lots of other ways of seeing things; and when we seek harmony with others by respecting them and seeking to understand their motives, instead of just judging them.

With that in mind, the questions above are vital because several key studies show wisdom comes down to seven components: the control of emotions, self-reflection, acceptance of different perspectives, decisiveness, social advising (giving rational, helpful advice to others), pro-social behaviours (like empathy and compassion), and spirituality.

Those who cultivate those aspects of wisdom live healthier and longer lives and tend to be more resilient, with much less anxiety, depression and loneliness. Not surprisingly, Christianity (and most other major faiths) embrace those same principles. Here’s a sampling:

• Control of emotions —  “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger doesn’t produce the righteousness God wants.” (James 1:19) “A fool gives full vent to emotions, but a wise person quietly holds them back.” (Prov. 29:11)

• Self-reflection —  “Examine yourselves to see if you’re following your faith; test yourselves.” (2 Cor. 13:5) “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends You, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” (Ps. 139: 23, 24) We’re to involve God in the process.

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• Acceptance of different perspectives — “Each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. So let’s not judge one another, but decide never to put a stumbling block in anyone’s way.” (Rom. 12:10-13) “Without wise counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” (Prov. 15:22)

• Decisiveness –- Scripture continually challenges people to make up their minds and act, instead of stalling, whether it’s choosing between God and money (Matt. 6:24) or putting God and others first. “How much longer will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him!” (1 Kings 18:22)

• Social advising – “Don’t bother correcting fools; they’ll only hate you. But correct the wise, and they’ll love you. Instruct the wise, and they’ll be even wiser. Teach the righteous, and they’ll learn even more.” (Prov. 9:7-9)

• Pro-social behaviours — “The Holy Spirit produces… in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Gal. 5:22, 23) “ Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” (Phil. 2:4)

• Spirituality — For people of faith “reverence for the Lord is the foundation of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment.” (Prov. 9:10). Ultimately, wisdom comes from God and His willingness to guide and change us. “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God and He’ll give it to you.” (James 1:5)

But, be aware, you may have to go through some stuff before you gain that wisdom.

Just remember, insight and discernment don’t come automatically with age or adversity. So, get with the program and wise up.

Share your thoughts with Rick Gamble at He pastors an independent, non-denominational church in Brantford called Followers of Christ ( and teaches media at Wilfrid Laurier University.

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