A Q&A on Wisdom
For several years I’ve used the Q&A site Quora as a forum to articulate some of my thoughts about wisdom. I’ve chosen six of these to share with you here.
I tend to enjoy the wild factoids and perspectives I find in my feed from the Q&A site Quora. Every now and then I contribute my own answers to posed questions, usually about some aspect of “wisdom”. You might enjoy some of my recent comments.
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What are some true universal principles, laws or rules of nature that can be applied to all aspects of human life on Earth? What are they and why?
- “There’s more to it than that.”
This principle is applicable to every situation – to everything we know or think we know – and is arguably the most important thing to take into account in every situation.
Realizing “there’s always more to it” nurtures healthy humility and curiosity – even awe, when we really get into its implications.
It is the major dynamic underlying the idea that the more we know, the more we realize we don’t know.
(I think of it as the N+1 of wholeness, since “the whole” is always bigger than we think it is. And, to make matters both better and worse, the whole is always evolving!)
- “Our job is less to decide whether something (or someone) is right or wrong, but to seek to understand its gifts, its limitations, and where it fits in the Big Picture of what’s going on.”
This principle – especially when pursued with the understanding, in both mind and heart, that “there’s always more to it” – takes us on journeys of ever-deepening understanding and inquiry that ultimately transform us. We become increasingly unsatisfied with premature conclusions, closed minds, and surface judgments, especially negative ones (although we realize that they, too, have gifts and fit somewhere). The deeper we take it, the more our perspective expands which, in turn, expands our empathy and appreciation.
We might call it “the yoga of inquiry”, a sort of cognitive, empathic spiritual discipline….
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What words of wisdom never backfire on the one saying them?
“Tell me more…”
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Is there a difference between public opinion and collective wisdom?
If by “public opinion” you mean what’s revealed through ordinary public opinion polling, then most definitely yes. However, under the right conditions, ordinary randomly selected people in conversation can generate levels of collective wisdom. It has been demonstrated that this is possible to the extent those people have (1) been given understandable full-spectrum information, (2) a good level of diversity and differences among them, and (3) good facilitation to help them think together and work together with and through their differences.
The quality of each of those three variables can be poor or excellent (which is a major focus in my work), but even well-intentioned but mediocre quality can uplift such people’s collective insight towards wisdom. Note here that I’m talking about wisdom that can move us towards long-term broadly beneficial outcomes, not the “wisdom of crowds” variety that just generates relatively accurate collective predictions.
(In the above, I’m speaking from my “wise democracy” framework. The idea of “collective wisdom” can, of course, refer to any collective, from flocks to marriages to networks and organizations. The reference to “public opinion” in the question oriented me to how these phenomena relate to politics and public affairs.)
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How does wisdom differ from intelligence?
Consider how much intelligence it would take to efficiently kill millions of people and maintain good records of it all.
Now consider how much wisdom it would take to achieve the same end.
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What is the collective wisdom of humanity?
Wisdom is different from smarts. Collective wisdom is different from collective intelligence.
I see two aspects to “the collective wisdom of humanity”.
The first is the truths held in common by widely different religious and spiritual traditions – particularly the Golden Rule (and its underlying fundamental of “reciprocity” – especially as applied to strangers, enemies, nature, etc.) and various mystical insights into the interrelationships among and unity of all Life.
The second would be the well-considered insights and guidances generated by well-informed groups of appropriately diverse people on different issues at different scales (see the Wise Democracy Project for the many dimensions of that dynamic).
(Note that my working definition of collective wisdom is “taking into account what needs to be taken into account for longterm broad benefit.”)
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How can humanity increase its collective wisdom?
There is much to be said for individual enlightenment in generating collective wisdom. But with billions of people to enlighten and not much time to do it in (given the challenges we face), I don’t count on that. I am more interested in processes, designs, technologies, etc., that can help us collectively be more enlightened than we are individually.
I cover many dimensions of that in my wise democracy pattern language, where each “pattern” (design guidance) is associated with a number of resources and methods to help put it into practice. Check it out.
Most of those resources and methods already exist, but are not being applied together to create collective activities (and ultimately institutions) that can generate true collective wisdom. Aligning all the pieces of that puzzle together into various coherent wholes – that would be my answer to this question (with the added note that the whole puzzle needs further development and ongoing evolution!!).
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Tom Atlee, The Co-Intelligence Institute, POB 493, Eugene, OR 97440
Evoking and engaging the wisdom and resourcefulness of the whole on behalf of the whole
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