Cross-posted at A Druid’s Journey.
Wisdom: good judgment, the ability to perceive people and situations correctly, deliberate about and decide on the correct response (from the Ár nDraíocht Féin Dedicant Manual)
When most people think about wisdom, they consider a person with vast amounts of knowledge at his or her disposal. The archetype of the old man on the mountain or old woman in the village is a strong one. This person has lived many years, experienced many things and seems to have all the answers. The fallacy is to believe that the answers come from the knowledge and experience alone.
The dictionary tells us that to be wise is to have “the power of discerning and judging properly as to what is true or right.” But this says nothing about having vast stores of knowledge or experience. So how does that fit in with our images of wisdom? It fits in because wisdom isn’t knowledge and experience. It’s discernment in regard to the use of knowledge and experience. The strength of the wise woman or wise man does not lie in what they know, but in how they use their knowledge.
Discernment is the ability to evaluate, to separate what’s meaningful from what’s false or insincere. Discernment gets to the heart of what makes a person or an action wise – discernment is the ability to know when it’s appropriate to use information and experience and when to step back.
Wisdom, however, is available to any of us at any time if only we pause to think about what it means to be wise. Age doesn’t necessarily bring wisdom through knowledge; most of us can think of examples of this. Nor does experience always follow the accrual of years in this lifetime. I can think of several people, myself included, who repeat errors despite experience that might dictate another course of action (and history is rife with them). We rise to wisdom when we rise to the challenge to know and to guide our actions through the knowing.
As a virtue, wisdom interacts with the other nine virtues almost as a unifying force. Wisdom is necessary in the personal, in the communal and certainly in the ethereal. I find it difficult to imagine enacting things like vision, courage or integrity without the discerning force of wisdom.