It’s an ashen sky and lo-fi Sunday. Bone dreary and mellow with intermittent sunlight. The air is pregnant with repose. Heavy. Lingering with moisture, the kind that clings to your hair and drips off the edges of your windowsills. The temperature in a slow and steady climb, typical of spring afternoons in the American South. And I–now post-yoga, post-weekend chores–settle in with a cup of earl grey tea, Jung’s On the Nature of the Psyche, my notebook, and a pen. These, ladies and gentlemen, are the most coveted moments of my week. And, not simply because, for the next several hours, I will feed my new-found fascination with the writings of C.G. Jung (and continue tinkering with the concepts introduced in “On Psychic Energy,” an incredibly lucid, albeit challenging, essay that I anticipate will influence my next post as it did the previous one). But, because these are the moments that speak to me. The moments in which I am present, harmonious, engaged, whole. Moments in which I feel I partake of a kind of wisdom, in which I share creatively, intellectually, and soulfully in the life that is.
It was, in fact, as I was considering the depth inherent in moments like these–their honesty–that I turned an eye to contemporary notions of wisdom. Of wisdom and intelligence. Their oppositions and intersections. After a few Google searches and a quick perusal of what appeared to be relevant perspectives, I came to the conclusion that wisdom was a construct I needed to define for myself. No one else’s description quite did it for me. Quite captured the essence of what wisdom feels like to me (I’m not sure how many others experience this, but, for me, to capture the essence of what a thing feels like, aesthetically and intuitively, is the deepest and most gratifying kind of writing.), how it manifests itself in human nature, and why we need it. Indeed, as I find myself in what would appear to be the throes of a personal search for authenticity and insight, I grow increasingly unimpressed by most other manifestations of intelligence (or related capacities). Analysis. Criticism. Empiricism. Convergent thinking. One, incomplete dimension. I’ve heard it all before. It is wisdom I want. It is wisdom I crave. Jung. May. Rank. On this slow, sultry afternoon, as I immerse myself not only in the flows of psychic energy, but also in Jung’s typography of the human psyche, it is wisdom alone that I seek. And, there’s nowhere to go but deep. What a ride.
Here are some thoughts on wisdom.
Wisdom is highly intuitive.
People who are wise (not to be confused with “intelligent,” as in high-IQ, or quick problem-solvers) seem to possess a deeper understanding of the laws of nature than the rest of us do. They appear to have an unparalleled understanding of humanity, a grasp of universal truth, a knowledge of the ways things work. And, it’s a kind of knowledge that’s beyond fact. Beyond logic, though not illogical. Beyond science. Yet, it resonates with us intuitively (deeply and often inexplicably), when we hear it.
Wisdom is highly intuitive. If the psychologists who refer to wisdom as a capacity to see the “big picture,” or to sense the similarities or underlying patterns in seemingly unrelated events are correct, then it is surely the intuitive component of wisdom to which they are referring. The ability to sense, in some, is so powerful, so cultivated, that it appears to be otherworldly, to border on the mystical. To my mind, it is a highly developed sense of intuition (a tremendous gift, to be sure) that allows the wisest among us to distill simple truths, insightful observations, patterns, and other commonalities from highly complex circumstances. All the rest is just background noise. I also believe that those of us who wish to become wiser–because, surely, we all possess this capacity to varying degrees–should work, first, on honing our intuition.
Of course, I’d be remiss if, before I concluded this section, I didn’t address a question that continues returning to my mind: Do I believe that wisdom may actually have an otherworldly component? That is, do I believe it’s possible to sense a form of knowledge that exists beyond the bounds of human intuition? A sort of spiritual gift? It’s possible.
Wisdom has a reverence for mystery.
The wisest people know what they do not know. They understand their limitations. And, they can sense rather brilliantly the incompleteness of their knowledge. The vastness of what lies beyond. Accordingly, wisdom has a certain reverence for mystery. The wisest people temper their intellects and attitudes. They don’t make the mistake of trying to concoct a theory around the inexplicable. Or attempting to articulate that which will never be able to be explained. Instead, they push boundaries in a more subdued, artful way.
Indeed, an intelligent form of analysis can quite easily water-down the elements of the sacred in our daily lives. Can apply data or scientific fact recklessly. A wise individual would not be so one-sided in his or her approach to life that rational, logical argument would always trump creativity, imagination, the soul of ingenuity and experimentation. Wisdom is far more than IQ. It is an amalgam of metal faculties and, in my mind, personality traits. It is a perspective, which leads me to my final point…
Wisdom looks both ways.
I tend to have a low regard for people who can’t live out the ideas they preach. Or who have a habit of presenting their ideas in a way that is entirely off-putting to others. You know the kind. The perpetually hostile. Those whose anger can never be assuaged. Those who seem to genuinely loathe anything and everything external to them. The type of character psychoanalyst, Karen Horney, describes as one who “moves against people” (or, in some cases, maybe “away from people”). They’re angry, embittered, or otherwise in chaos. And, it’s reflected in everything they say and do. I’ve had co-workers, bosses, classmates, and teachers like this. I’ve seen and read journalists, bloggers, and other media contributors like this. They’re “perturbed.” And, I absolutely refuse to listen to them. To my mind, their demeanor and/or their tone immediately invalidate their respective arguments before I even have a chance to dive into them. No matter how intelligent the individual, how educated, or how savvy the argument. Why, you ask? Other than the fact that they’re generally foul and off-putting?
Because a wise person would know not to approach the world that way. A wise person would know better than to talk to other people that way. A person like this, who can formulate a clever argument, who can display an admirable degree of mental aptitude, but is otherwise falling to pieces, and feels further emboldened by showing the world his or her egregious attitude, I think of as (forgive me) an idiot with a high IQ.
I perused a few articles in which psychologists seem to delineate rather cleanly between wisdom and temperament, placing wisdom squarely within the same realm as intelligence as a set of mental functions. And, I don’t know that I agree with that. It seems to me that there is a temperamental component to wisdom. A wise person can look inward as well as outward with a relatively keen eye. And, a high degree of wisdom, I believe, would allow for the intentional shaping of one’s personality. That is, it dictates a particular temperament (or, a particular set of characteristics or proclivities…Are some “types” naturally wiser than others? Someone should study that.). For the knowledge that one should approach others in a fair, balanced, and respectful manner. In accord with one’s values. And, that even in moments of exaggerated imbalance, we should maintain a base level of integrity in our actions and interactions. In short, a wise person would never act like an idiot with a high IQ. Wisdom is the inner glance that knows.