Wisdom Part 2

Age gives the opportunity for wisdom, but does not guarantee it. Yesterday I said that I really don’t know how to become wise. However, I do have a couple of ideas. First of all, I think we can clearly says that knowledge does not bring wisdom. I briefly explained the difference between knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Clearly, simply learning something does not make one wise. Some degree of knowledge is certainly required for wisdom, but knowledge doesn’t bring wisdom with it (though we often like to act like it does). However, age doesn’t bring wisdom either. Ultimately, I think that wisdom comes through a combination of knowledge, experience, and character. Proverbs tells us that you can beat a fool a thousand times and he will learn nothing (I often think this describes me better), but a wise man will learn simply from watching others.

I think that without experience there can be no actual advance in wisdom. However, we all know people who simply refuse to learn. They fail in the same ways over and over (maybe I’m describing you… all too often I’m describing me), and despite their experiences, they do not grow in wisdom. So, experience does not simply bring wisdom. This is where character comes in. Our character determines how we respond to our experiences. Do I do the same thing over again, even though it ended badly last time, or do I learn from my mistakes? In many ways pride is the enemy of wisdom. If my pride keeps me from learning from my experiences, then it keeps me from developing wisdom.

Similarly, hope can sometimes be the enemy of wisdom. As I said yesterday, wisdom answers the why questions. Why should I do this, or why shouldn’t I do this? Hope, especially foolish hope, often presents unrealistic reasons that wisdom should pierce. For instance, I’ve mentioned before that in the past I’ve had a bad habit of dating young, emotionally traumatized women. Let us say that I meet a young woman who’s just come out of an abusive relationship. Wisdom should tell me that pursuing her is a bad idea. It is unlikely that she will be ready for or willing to enter the kind of relationship that I’m looking for, and I will probably get hurt if I try. However, hope whispers in my ear: ‘maybe this time will be different’.

This hope is not realistic, nor is it wise. It is, in many ways, prideful and it focuses on me and what I want, rather than focusing on God and seeking to do his will. So, I wind up following a hope that pridefully puts my own selfishness before my devotion to God. This is, of course, obviously not a wise thing to do. So, pride and prideful hope can both be enemies of wisdom, and either might result in keeping me from wisdom no matter how old I get.

Confidence is Overrated

Any discerning reader will note that confidence, that lauded American ‘manly’ trait, didn’t make it onto my list of character qualities, and this reader may be wondering why. The first and foremost reason is that confidence is not a character quality, it is a result of character qualities. Like the man who earned $20 million dollars, we do not respect a man for his confidence in and of itself. We may admire his confidence, we may envy his confidence, but our respect is reserved for the qualities that have lead him to be confident, not for the fact that he is confident. Even when we do not know the reasons for his confidence, our respect is based on the assumption that there is a good reason for it. This is why we ‘fake it ’til we make it’ (a horrible idea by the way), because this faked confidence implies real experience that would normally inspire such confidence.

The second reason that confidence did not make it onto my list is because confidence is situational. We have confidence in those areas in which we have particular skill or expertise. For instance, I have been teaching for almost 4 years, 3 years with the same institution. I have dealt with a variety of difficult students and difficult situations, and I know my subject matter well. In the classroom and in my conversations with students I am very confident. I have been practicing martial arts for 20 years, I am not a small man, and I have been in a few fights. In a fight I am fairly confident. However, I have never had strong social skills, and I’ve had repeated negative experiences with women, so when it comes to wooing a woman, I am not particularly confident. Real confidence depends on how well our knowledge, skills, and past experiences match up with the situation in which we find ourselves. This is because real confidence is based in real skills and real experiences.

Self-esteem may be differentiated from confidence in that it is not based in real skills or real experiences. Self-esteem is, in common practice, based on the viewpoints of others, and often one’s self-esteem is most affected by those acquaintances who know one the least. This is because people tend to assume that someone who does not know them well will have little reason to lie when giving their opinion (generally this is often not true), but that opinion is also based on an extremely limited experience of the individual in question. Thus, these two bastions of the American mindset are both built on faulty ground. Self-esteem does not encourage a right view of oneself (i.e. humility), and confidence is based on the situation and one’s skills.

Confidence is, however, generally a boost both to oneself and to others. It is good to feel confident in oneself and what one is doing, and it is easier to follow someone who is confident. However, confidenceĀ should be a reflection of one’s actual ability to handle a situation, not a reflection of one’s ability to fake one’s way through life. Confidence is born out of courage, endurance, devotion, the skills that those character qualities have allowed one to develop, and the experiences that have tested them. True confidence is the child of strong character, not a part of it.