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We Need Wisdom More than Ever

Written by MJ Ryan, SheEO Development Guide

My whole life has been a quest for wisdom. Given the chaos, suffering and greed in the world, growing in wisdom has always seemed like the only appropriate response. That’s why I was so interested in new research that’s been published recently in the journal International Psychogeriatrics, about a seven-item scale that supposedly can determine how wise a person is.

The components are:

  1. Self-reflection;
  2. Pro-social behaviors (i.e., empathy and compassion);
  3. Emotional regulation;
  4. Acceptance of diverse perspectives;
  5. Decisiveness;
  6. Social advising (i.e., giving helpful advice);
  7. Spirituality.

Despite my interest in the subject, I will never take the quiz — there is something profoundly disturbing to me about a “wisdom scale.” Because fundamentally wisdom is not a self-help exercise. It’s a cognitive process we desperately need to cultivate as our only way out of the social, racial, economic and environmental challenges we face. According to Dee Hock, founder of VISA, wisdom-making is the end of a process of taking in data and turning it ultimately into wisdom.

Here’s Dee’s explanation. If it scares you, it should:

“We are now at a point in time when the ability to receive, utilize, store, transform, and transmit information (the lower cognitive forms) has literally exploded beyond comprehension, thus inundating understanding and wisdom.  We are drowning in a raging flood of new data and information, and the raft of wisdom to which we desperately cling is breaking up beneath us. …

“In time, with enough effort and attention, data may become information, information may become knowledge, knowledge may become understanding and understanding may become wisdom.  Unfortunately, time is a luxury we no longer have and effort and attention are sadly lacking. 

“Native societies, which endured for centuries with little increase in the capacity to receive, store, utilize, transform, and transmit information, had time to develop a very high ratio of understanding and wisdom to data and information.  They may not have known a great deal by today’s standards, but they understood a very great deal about what they knew.  They were enormously wise in relation to the extent to which they were informed, and their information was conditioned by an extremely high ratio of social, economic, and spiritual value.

“In contrast, our society understands very little about what it knows.  It has ever less understanding and wisdom in relation to the data, information, and knowledge it commands.  The immensity of data and information which assaults our lives is not conditioned by a similar increase in social, economic and spiritual values–in a word, wisdom.  Our vast scientific, technological, and economic power is thus unleashed with inadequate understanding of its systemic propensity for destruction, or sufficient wisdom to guide its evolution and use.

“Thus we remain confined within our archaic, seventeenth century concepts of organization and leadership, and our isolated specialties with their ever narrowing perspectives….

“Who could have imagined that such a wealth of information, science, and technology could have resulted in collective madness, but so it has. It never needed to be so.  It does not need to be so now.  If there is not a similar explosion of understanding and wisdom in order to restore proper balance between the higher cognitive capacities and the lower, a livable future becomes ever more tenuous and remote.”  

The cultivation of wisdom bucks this horrifying trend. It’s why at SheEO we strive to take our time, to go deep rather than wide, look at things systemically, cultivate intuition, and reflect on everything. Do we do it perfectly? Absolutely not. But the more of us seeking the patterns, the deeper meaning, culling out what is significant, the more we can offer wisdom to the world.

If you are interested in exploring this further, check out Dee’s website and his book Birth of the Chaordic Age.   

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