February 18th, 2019

What is wisdom and how do we acquire it?

By Letter to the Editor on September 11, 2018.

Apparently, we are at the tipping point facing disaster.

Going back some 40 years, on a rocky mountain road in Lesotho, in southern Africa, I saw an old man sitting by the road. I offered him a ride. “No,” he said. “I walked all day. I am waiting for my spirit to catch up with me.”

I was a university teacher, but this man, probably illiterate, was much wiser, way more than I could ever be. He was leaving much smaller footprints on Earth. When was the last time we stopped and waited for our spirits to catch up with us? We run all the time; we have no time to process what we saw and did. We run too fast; deadlines, emails to answer, things to do, stuff to buy. We say, what good does it do to worry about the mess we left behind but forgot about? Already our mind is full of new. We know a lot and do a lot of things; but are we any wiser and the world safer?

We accumulate so much information. With a click of a mouse, we can find out about almost everything. Nowadays, a 10-year-old has access to so much information. But is the kid wiser than I am? Even with so much data, we still do more seriously stupid things in larger scale and make bigger damage quicker.

Data is like a thick New York City telephone book; just millions of names and numbers. But without knowing what you need and how to find them, a telephone book is just a thick book, a door-stop. Only when you know what you need and how to find it, data become knowledge. But are we capable to use those pieces of information for good? Not necessarily.

Knowledge is like money. You can use money to do good or to bring disasters. Likewise, we can create bigger problems if we use knowledge unwisely.

Then how to acquire wisdom? Does age make you wiser? Yes, from time to time. But not necessarily. We know stupid old men. A huge amount of knowledge and money can cause big disasters. What is wisdom then? And how to acquire it? It’s complicated; it should be a work in progress for all of us.

It’s time to sit with a wise old man, and wait for the spirit to catch up with us.

Tadashi (Tad) Mitsui


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