A longer version of this article with more detailed
guidelines and references can be found at
As a civilization we have tremendous collective power, but we don’t always use it wisely. We can make good decisions, but we face messy, entangled, rapidly growing problems with complex, debatable causes. Efforts to solve one problem often generate new ones. We need more than problem-solving smarts here. We need wisdom. A good definition for wisdom here is
the capacity to take into account
what needs to be taken into account
to produce long term, inclusive benefits.
To the extent we fail to take something important into account, it will come back to haunt us. But often we only realize we overlooked something long after our decision has been implemented. Certain practices – because they lead us to include more of what’s important – can help us meet this challenge. Here are eight complementary ways to do this. The more of them we do, and the better we do them, the wiser our collective decisions will be.1. Creatively engage diverse perspectives and intelligences. High quality conversations among diverse people with full-spectrum knowledge, using their full human capacities – including reason, intuition, and aesthetic sensibilities – can generate wisdom. 2. Consult global wisdom traditions and broadly shared ethics. Ethical principles common to most major religions and philosophies provide time-tested wisdom, augmented by what we have learned more recently through global science and global dialogue. 3. Seek guidance from natural patterns. Wisdom is embedded in nature, in organisms, in natural forms and processes, and in evolution, providing a vast reservoir of insight and know-how tapped not only by scientists and engineers but by tribal and agricultural cultures. 4. Apply systems thinking. Wisdom comes from understanding underlying causes and taking into account how things are interrelated, how wholes and parts influence each other through power relations, resonance, feedback dynamics, flows, motivating purposes, and life-shaping narratives, habits and structures. 5. Think about the Big Picture and the Long Term. Wisdom grows as we step out of limiting perspectives to understand (and creatively use!) histories and energies from the past, current contexts and trends, future ramifications and needs, larger and smaller scales, and other mind-expanding perspectives.
6. Seek agreements that are truly inclusive. The more people contribute to, engage with, and believe in an agreement, the more likely it will wisely address what needs to be addressed and be well implemented.7. Release the potential of hidden assets and positive possibilities. It is wise to notice and creatively engage existing energies and resources and to tap the power of people’s aspirations which often show up at the rough edges, on the margins of our thinking, our group, our society. 8. Encourage healthy self-organization and learning. Any situation or system has problem-solving and self-organizing capacities which can be released and supported with well-designed forms of invitation, participation, and collaboration – powerful questions, crowd-sourcing activities, incentives, democracy, conversation, games… 9. Co-create accessible, relevant, accurate, full-spectrum knowledge. Fundamental to every one of these principles is the ability of decision-makers to know what’s important.
Society’s capacity to make wise decisions will be enhanced to the extent these wisdom-generating practices are supported and institutionalized AND to the extent the systemic obstacles to them are removed or bypassed.