5 Steps to the Acquisition of Wisdom in Your Life
What can someone who lived a thousand years ago teach us about wisdom today? Considering true wisdom is timeless, one would think we can learn from any and all wisdom.
Wisdom is wisdom is wisdom regardless of when it came about. Why is that? Because wisdom deals in fundamental truths. Fundamentals are, well, fundamental. They are unchangeable because they are based on truth. Basic truth does not change; otherwise, it wouldn't be truth, would it? Therefore wisdom, fundamentals, and truth are unchangeable and timeless.
Let's examine the five steps suggested more than 1000 years ago for the acquisition of wisdom by the neo-platonic philosopher Solomon Ibn Gabirol.
"The first step in the acquisition of wisdom is silence, the second listening, the third memory, the fourth practice, the fifth teaching others." Solomon Ibn Gabirol (1021-1070)
What is more important than silence, especially in today's noisy world? Silence provides us with time to think, and we could all use more of that. It is when we think deeply that wisdom arises in life.
Things like meditation and mindfulness work best in silence and are wonderful for aiding in the acquisition of wisdom. In silence, we can tap into our inner thoughts, which would be lost were it not for those quiet moments. Many of us value our early morning time exactly for this reason – its silence. When you make time for silence, you may find the reward of wisdom that would otherwise slip by unnoticed.
Reflect on the wisdom of this great English Philosopher and statesman:
"Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom." Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
Did you know the words listen and silent contain exactly the same letters? Perhaps that is why the two complement each other so well. Without silencing our thoughts, it is difficult to listen.
Too many people listen too little today. In this fast-paced, noisy world we live in, who has time to stop and listen you say? We are so busy with our own thoughts; we don't hear what others are saying. When we do hear them, we spend so much time formulating our response the depth of our listening suffers greatly.
There is no question we acquire wisdom by listening, even if it is only to ourselves.
As the Brazilian lyricist and novelist so aptly stated:
"All wisdom was the result of listening to one's own soul." Paulo Coelho (1947-present)
Lest we forget, memory is critical to the acquisition of wisdom. Wisdom comes from experience, and without memory, our past triumphs and failures would be of little gain. We learn because we recall what works and what does not work and apply these lessons across our lives.
Knowledge does not give us wisdom. We receive wisdom from experience. Our ability to remember the lessons of life births wisdom into our lives.
"Memory is the mother of all wisdom." Aeschylus (524-456 BC)
Wisdom is gained from both thinking and doing. Wisdom is not gained from continual education but by putting what you learn and think into practice.
When you attempt to do something, you learn lessons from what goes right and what goes wrong. Another way of saying this is you learn from your successes as well as your mistakes and failures. Practice is the only way to find and experience the best paths forward, helping you acquire wisdom in the process. It is in the doing that you find what you do not know, which is vitally important to developing wisdom.
"Practice what you know, and it will help to make clear what now you do not know." Rembrandt (1606-1669)
It is well known the best way to learn something well is to teach it. By sharing your wisdom with others, you can potentially learn and experience it more deeply.
While wisdom is not teachable, its principles and concepts are teachable as fundamental truths. The student can then take what they learn from you and go through the experience of acquiring wisdom on their own.
"You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him find it within himself." Galileo
While it is possible to translate Gabirol's quote in different ways, a contemporary expanded reframing that may apply is:
The first step in gaining wisdom is to keep your mouth shut and maintain silence. The second is opening your ears and mind to listen. The third is using your memory to remember what you hear and learn. The fourth is putting what you have learned into practice. The fifth is teaching what you have learned to others.
I leave you a quote from the 30th president of the United States to think about as you seek to acquire wisdom in your life:
"Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers. It may not be difficult to store up in the mind a vast quantity of facts within a comparatively short time, but the ability to form judgments requires the severe discipline of hard work and the tempering heat of experience and maturity." Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933)
There you have Gabirol's five steps to acquire wisdom. What is your next step?