Below is an excerpt from a piece I wrote years ago about wisdom.
I had an older friend, a mentor, years ago who used to tell me, “there are no big deals.” I found his words comforting in a wider, more spiritual sense. My father, in a more pragmatic channel like to say, “you just keep surviving.”
I’m inclined at times to blow things out of perspective, or as the cliche goes, make mountains out of mole hills. I do that much less frequently but when I feel threatened, particularly in the areas of money or romance I can start making bold and unreasonable assumptions and say and act in ways that aren’t in my best interests.
Maintaining perspective helps me step back, reduce the emotionality and steady myself when I feel threatened or under stress and eventually let go.
Here’s what I wrote:
The title of a popular self-help book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff and It’s All Small Stuff, by Richard Carlson seems particularly relevant to a discussion of wisdom. It’s a book written to help us put life in perspective. He opens the book by writing:
“Often we allow ourselves to get all worked up about things that, upon closer examination, aren’t really that big of a deal. We focus on little problems and concerns and blow them way out of proportion.”
One capacity of those with wisdom is the ability to refrain from getting worked up about small things, things we often cannot change, and instead accept them, and even more importantly, put them in perspective. So someone didn’t return a phone call, cut in front of you in line, or re-ended you on the way to work. It’s an annoyance sure, but there’s no reason to lose sleep over it or cause a scene you may regret.
Wisdom is especially important in helping people put loss in perspective. An unforeseen divorce, the loss of a child, or the loss of a long-held job can feel absolutely devastating and overwhelm one’s ability to have any broader sense of life’s meaning. A sense of wisdom or perspective can come from enduring such experiences by grieving, perhaps maintaining a quiet hopefulness of “I can get through this,” and eventually coming to an acceptance of what has occurred.
Having perspective lifts us. We may not always follow wise advice, but we enjoy reading and hearing about it. It can trigger a sense of relief, an “I get it” moment, a sense that we’ve come across a solution to a dilemma or a particularly painful problem in life.
We should note that wisdom is not just knowledge, or worse, information. We don’t consider a person wise who intrudes into our daily struggles to share their “wisdom” regarding just how we should handle a particular circumstance or relationship.
An essential aspect of wisdom is the ability to be understanding; that is to listen carefully for feelings and thoughts without judgment and to respond in a way that makes sense to others. There may be preachers who are wise, but wise people do not preach.
The serenity prayer suggest another characteristic of wisdom is the ability to know our limits, and recognize what we can and can not change.
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
-The Serenity Prayer-