Discerning Wisdom

Can we spot Wisdom when it crosses our path?

I think that we can, but it does seem to have something of an ineffable quality. Is it possible, I wondered, to define what it is that makes some statements, ideas, and insights seem wise to us?

To answer my question, I started reading through the quotations I assembled for the Smart to Wise project. Taking those that I chose to go into the book and the remainder, for which there was to little room, I had about 200. Would there be any pattern I could discern?

Let�s take a look at a few*

  • �This above all: to thine own self be true� William Shakespeare
  • �Where all think alike, no one thinks very much� Walter Lipmann
  • �If you want to make enemies; try changing something� Woodrow Wilson

A Pattern of Wisdom

I do not claim to have found the deep nature of wisdom, that distinguishes wise form smart statements. But I think there is something that characterises a lot of statements that will be widely regarded as wide:

Many wise statements express a something true but not immediately obvious about some form of relationship.

If the statement were not true, it could not be wise: it would be foolish. If it were an obvious truth, then the only thing that could raise the sentence above the banal would be if it were expressed so cleverly as to be smart.

Wisdom ranges over a wide territory and covers the full range of relationships, between things, people, and between people and things. It is the relationships among people that we often find most profound, and this diagram illustrates seven levels of relationship.


Here, we see relationships:

  1. � to ones-self
  2. � to others
  3. � between others
  4. � with society
  5. � within society
  6. � between societies
  7. � with something bigger

Let�s see how that works

We can take a few example quotations, and find the relationships that they discuss.
It is, of course, for you to judge how true and how obvious or insightful the observations are.

  1. �This above all: to thine own self be true�
    (Type 1)
  2. �No one can make you feel inferior without your consent�
    (Type 2) Eleanor Roosevelt
  3. �2 types of people-those who come into a room & say ‘Well, here I am!’
    and those who come in and say
    ‘Ah, there you are.’�
    (Type 3) Frederick Collins
  4. �If you want to make enemies; try changing something�
    (Type 4)
  5. �Where all think alike, no one thinks very much� (Type 5)
  6. �Do not show strength without some good purpose,
    lest you awaken resistance in the minds of those who are watching you�
    (Type 6 or Type 2) Koichi Tohei
  7. �Men argue: nature acts.�
    (Type 7) Voltaire

* You can get two a day if to you by following the Smart to Wise Twitter feed @smart2wise.

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