What does it take to make wise decisions? What kind of considerations need to be in the mix for a decision to be “wise”? There was a time in my life, when I was a young lad, when I would have identified that nurturing presence as wisdom. As I got older I remained impressed and grateful for that nurturing presence but I became less convinced it was also wise. There are times when nurturing people adopt what I call the “Stockholm” syndrome, namely they are spending so much time caring for someone that they begin to believe that what that person names as important is in fact important. As I have aged I have come to believe that when a person in chronic need names what they want it is not always wise to just give it to them.
In my college years I thought academic and intellectual prowess was interchangeable with wisdom. If one had a dilemma go looking for a really smart person and s/he would have the wise answer. I did this and over time I came to realize that being clever and bright does not always make one wise. Then there are those our culture deems as “successful”, persons who make quick decisions that lead to an accumulation of resources and capital. These entrepreneurial folks seem to know how to make these happen, wherever they go things seems to go well, the “trains run on time”. But taking a closer look at some of their personal lives and decision-making I am less sure wise would be the term I would use to identify their gifts.
I guess the people who seem to self-identify as “wise” most of all are those who claim to have “common sense”. Again these folks are very helpful to have around, they seem to size up situations and know the obvious response very quickly. But truth be told this “common sense” often seems more like “conventional wisdom”, meaning that as long as the dilemma remains very familiar and common finding the correct path to take can also be found within a predictable list of options.
In my life experience the wise folks I have come to know have similar qualities; they are calm in a storm, they can and do offer advice that goes contrary to the self-interest of those they are closest to, they can and do “think outside the box”, they are not trying to relive past decisions and thus seeing every dilemma like it was theirs 40 years ago, and they take their time to ponder, reflect and bounce potential outcomes against a range of alternatives. They also have a sense of humour and can take themselves not so seriously, thus they have perspective.
Wisdom is rare because unlike nurturers, academics, and persons with uncommon common sense wisdom requires a process and not a set of experiences or information. Wise people are gems, they are hard to find, but in my life they are the ones I reach out to when times are challenging. All of us need to find our source of wisdom, which includes people we can talk to and be blessed by.