Who is Wise?

Wisdom is defined as a personal resource that is used to negotiate fundamental life changes and challenges and is often directed toward the goals of living a good life or striving for the common good (Baltes & Staudinger 2000; Kekes, 1983). Wise individuals possess rich knowledge and experience in matters of the human condition, self-knowledge, openness for new experiences, ability to learn from mistakes, and good intentions in action (Baltes, Gluck, & Kunzmann, 2005). Wisdom is thought to arise from … a variety of experiences that interact and collaborate, involving the orchestration of many psycho-social factors including cognitive, personal, social, and spiritual. Processing these experiences through personal and group reflection can transform newly-learned knowledge into wisdom, thereby transforming the individual in the process (Ardelt, 2003).

Wisdom can be defined as the integration of cognition, affection, reflection, and volition (Ardelt, 2004; Birren & Fisher, 1990). All of these sub-domains are thought to be necessary in order to produce wisdom, though none are considered sufficient in themselves. Cognition refers to one’s desire to under-stand life on a deep level and to know truth. This domain includes a concern for intrap¬ersonal and interpersonal matters and an acceptance of human nature, limitations of knowledge, and of life’s uncertainties. The affective domain regards sympathetic and compassionate love for others. Reflection is the tendency to examine oneself, know oneself, and consider matters from differ¬ent perspectives. The latter domain has been identified as the “hub” of wisdom as it is supposed to stimulate deep thought and compassion (Ardelt, 2004). The final domain, volition, involves the negotiation of personal and interpersonal beliefs and values in order to choose a course of action in favour of the common good (Pascual-Leone, 1990; Sternberg, 1998). Knowledge is more essential to “practical” wisdom, whereas “transcendent” wisdom requires the integration of a broader set of sub-domains (Wink & Helson, 1997). There is a connection between aesthetics and transcendent wisdom. This connection has been proposed by many poets and artists throughout history, being captured by John Keats in these final lines of his poem, Ode on a Grecian Urn:

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,”
– that is all
ye know on earth,
and all ye need to know.

Learning and growth come as a result of uncomfortable tensions that motivate one to solve a specific problem.  One who holds comfort as a high priority would likely avoid the difficult and “thorny” life problems that have been identified as an important source of wisdom (Baltes et al., 2005). Staudinger and Baltes (1996) contended that wisdom increases as a result of guided imagery (i.e. contemplative prayer, spending time with God) and reflective exercises, as well as through candid discussion of issues with a valued other.

Other indicators of wisdom include security and pro-social values. Each plays a significant role in the development of one aspect of wisdom. Security values include items such as peace, inner harmony, freedom, responsibility, and self-control. Accordingly, values such as equality, helpfulness, forgiveness, and love convey the kind of pro-social attitude anticipated by the affective wisdom domain.

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