The Virtue of Wisdom will be my first discussion as part of my series on the pillars of Stoic Virtues. The Stoic Virtue of Wisdom is the ability to know or understand what is good, what is bad and what is indifferent or neither good or bad. This is one of the cornerstones of the Stoic philosophy. The ability to know and understand how your acts are classified. Once we have a grasp on this first pillar of knowledge, we are able to work more intelligently with the other 3 pillars.
We tend to associate these virtues to the Stoics. Plato was actually the first philosopher to outline these four virtues in The Republic. Plato’s four virtues were later assimilated into Christianity. Known as the Cardinal Virtues as well as many other philosophies of the world. I will be sticking to the Stoic version and thought process for these virtues. This makes sense that the Stoic Virtue of Wisdom is the first. Stoics need to understand Amor Fati, Dichotomy of control and katalepsis.
Without wisdom the mind is sick, and the body itself, however physically powerful, can only have the kind of strength that is found in person in a demented or delirious state. So this is the sort of healthiness you must make your principal concern. You must attend to the other sort as well, but see that it takes second place.Seneca
This is actually more difficult for some than others. People tend to look at others and point out all of their faults. They want to critique a person on how something could be done the correct way. Folks tend to not have that same perception when we are doing this ourselves. The ability to know good from bad within ourselves is part of what wisdom is. We know that we should be eating healthy food but the desserts and fried food look so good. We justify the action to ourselves knowing deep down that these are bad things. This is but a small example but we have to notice how much we play these mind games with ourselves.
Developing wisdom is to be able to see and accept when we are wrong in situations. Insight to change our behaviors and mindset when we have reached the conclusion that we are incorrect. This is at the heart of wisdom. Having the ability to notice our actions and adjust ourselves moving forward. We are going to make mistakes and we are going to be wrong a lot. We also need to realize when we overthink and make situations more difficult than they need to be. See the Mexican Fisherman and the American Banker for lessons in overthinking. The point is to acknowledge the mistake quickly and adjust ourselves for the next challenge.
Virtue of Wisdom Sub-Catagories
The first of the subcategories on wisdom is Good Sense. What we call ‘common sense’ in today’s terms. This knowledge comes from personal experiences first and foremost. Experiences people have received from others through various mediums including written or verbal stories is another way to gain wisdom. The ability to have good sense is vital to the understanding and working of all the virtues.
Good calculation would be the ability to assess an individual option. This sub-catagory allows the wise stoic to see what the best course of action would be. Also, what the odd of success are with the exercise. This knowledge comes from how we experience the surroundings as well as trial and error. Good calculation ties into good sense. We have the knowledge, now what is the best course of action with the information we have.
This is the ability to be process information quickly which ultimately means that your mental abilities need to be at the ready. Quick-wittedness is focused on how fast we able to mentally process the information that is has been given to us. This also means that we should stay away from actions that would slow these reactions. Some of these items include alcohol and drugs whereas we should increase the actions of exercise (both mentally and physically) as well as getting enough rest for our mind to rejuvenate itself.
Everyone can always work to increase their quick-wittedness. Practicing the ability to concise when speaking. Don’t be too afraid of being wrong as this could be one of the by-products of a quick-wit. Just be concise and decisive with your comments, you don’t have to be humorous. We all know folks who take forever to tell a story or very slow to comment or react to information. Try to work on ourselves to be more concise with our comments and information. Experience and reason will all you to make wrong assumptions less, it is still best to sometimes guard your conclusions. Don’t let a fear of being wrong stop you from being able to quickly process information. The more that you practice, the better that you will be.
Discretion can best be described as obtaining the ability to avoid causing any type of transgression to others. Knowing it best to steer clear of disclosing confidential information. This information could be what we gained directly from the individual or entity or found through other means. Just because someone didn’t tell you the confidential information does not give you the green light to tell anyone and everyone. Gossiping is something to strictly avoid while following this sub-category.
Resourcefulness can be easily summed up with how we overcome difficult situations in quick and unique ways. The insight and ability for us to look at a situation and be open to different ways that it will be handled. We want to assess a situation quickly and have possible solutions to the situation. Try not to fall in love with your initial conclusion. Especially if it does not help the solve the problem at hand.
While the other Stoic virtues are just as important as wisdom, this is a great start in learning the stoic virtues. This knowledge of wisdom can be applied to learn the other stoic virtues. Over the next couple of posts, I will visit each of the stoic virtues. I will dig deeper to explain in more detail what these virtues are. Look for ways that you can apply wisdom into your everyday life. What are alternatives instead of quickly doing the first thing that pops in your mind?
Exercises to Increase Your Virtue of Wisdom
Virtue of Wisdom – Know Thyself
To increase your wisdom, the first thing is that you need to know yourself. Nobody can tell you who you are, this is a question that only you can answer. What makes you tick? Is there something that motivates you to wake up every morning? What brings you joy and what makes you sad? Before you can be wise with everything external, you must first be wise about yourself. Take some time away from all the daily noise and contemplate yourself. Some people say that meditation works best to really see your inner self. Benny, The Stoic Padawan, wrote an excellent article on How to Know Yourself
Virtue of Wisdom – Never Stop Learning
Always strive to learn new things and expand your horizons on what you are learning. Maybe you like reading, how about expanding yourself to writing to becoming a public speaker. If you use your mind with your hobbies, expand yourself to do physical hobbies. Doing the variety feeds your mind and expands your wisdom. Never stop learning or believing that you have nothing more to give your mind.
Virtue of Wisdom – Challenge Yourself
Give yourself challenging activities. Make your brain think about how to accomplish a task, puzzle or game. This will teach your brain to think in multiple and alternative ways. Your self esteem might appreciate when you master something but this is the time you will need to find something new. Switch up the activities between mental and physical so that your mind can be challenged. These mental challenges will help increase your stoic wisdom.
Virtue of Wisdom – Don’t Make It Easy On Yourself
One way to make things unique is to do them the hard way. When is the last time that you navigated a trip with a paper map? When you need more information on a subject matter, have you went to the library and looked up the answer? The devices in our pockets have made our lives easy but has also taken away our abilities to investigate and think creatively about find a solution or answer.
Virtue of Wisdom – Don’t Be Afraid to Fail
Mistakes make us learn a task quicker since we lived through the wrong way to do it. This sticks in our minds more than if we did it correctly. I am not saying to fail at everything. Start new ventures and Every new task is a learning moment whether we succeed or fail. The hardest part is starting. Experience is the number one way to gain Stoic Wisdom.