Wisdom is like a vaccine. It protects against confusion and noise that prevent you from living well. And, in the way that a vaccine works against a particular disease, wisdom becomes wisdom in relation to a particular problem. However, unlike a vaccine, wisdom can have broader reach.
Learning from the ancients
There are many sources of wisdom, and the wisdom of the ancients, whether Taoist or Stoic, I find particularly interesting. Why? They have stood the test of time. As such, they point to the deeper characteristics of being human, beyond the particular trends of our time.
Don’t get me wrong, wisdom that specifically deals with certain aspects of modernity is very useful. However, it must be built on a deeper understanding of the human condition. And, what better way to have a window into this than through the writings of the ancients.
We, humans, share a basic biology, psychology and evolved tendency to live in social groups, whatever our cultural idiosyncrasies. So, the trials and tribulations faced by our ancestors will have resonance with what we face today. And, the more resonance we find, the more useful the ancients are because they highlight something deeper. They highlight the deeper tendencies of our minds and what it means to be human in our world. That which was true then, as it is true now.
Furthermore, if wisdom has survived for thousands of years, there must be something interesting in it. Otherwise, why is it still around? Some of what survives may help us deal with the same old problems. The same problems that the ancients faced that we still face today.
Beware the dangers
But, beware the obsession with wisdom. Unless you are interested in exploring obscure material for fun — for its own sake — as I do, there is danger in thinking that you need still more wisdom before you can be a complete person. This is the danger of endless self-improvement — not surprisingly a problem faced by the ancients too! The whole tradition of Zen, for example, may be viewed as an attempt to cure the individual of the idea that they need to improve. That they need to be something other than what they already are.
The point of anything, wisdom or material possessions, is to help us live well —skilfully and with inner freedom. There is no need to cling to wisdom if you feel well and at ease. Seek it, if you need it. Cultivate it, if you feel it might be useful. But, do not become a slave to it. As the masterful, Alan Watts, put it: “If you get the message, hang up the phone”.
Wisdom is like a vaccine that you can make
Remember too, the wisdom that comes through your lived experience that no book or person can teach you. And, even what you learn from others, you must experience and try yourself, for it to truly sink in.
Wisdom is like a vaccine. Well, actually, it is better! Wisdom not only offers protection for the future, it cures present ailments too. And, the wonderful thing is that YOU can develop it in house. You can cultivate it for yourself, within yourself. And, finding it in one area feeds other areas of your life. What’s more, you can build upon all that is available in the world — both ancient and current!
This is the path of self-knowledge.
Harsha is a 1:1 coach and independent thinker based in London. He empowers people to find more clarity, confidence and focus in their lives — to cut through the noise, in a world so full of it. Harsha’s new book, Machine Ego: Tragedy of the Modern Mind, is now available in paperback and Kindle through Amazon.