Men are wise in proportion, not to their experience, but to their capacity for experience.
– James Boswell, Scottish author (1740-1795)
It has often been said that wisdom is gained by making mistakes, that the wisest among us have made the most mistakes.
Recovering from mistakes and learning from them are critical to building wisdom. People who don’t recover and learn from their mistakes or who continue to make similar mistakes hamper themselves by, in effect, adopting a mental disability.
Wise people teach others who indicate an interest in learning from those who know the skills, the knowledge, the best ways of doing things. People with experience who keep their hard-won knowledge to themselves are not wise, just full of…knowledge they will likely never use again. Teaching others and the willingness–even eagerness–to teach others is a hallmark of a wise person.
Boswell says that a person on the way to gaining wisdom must not only accumulate experience, but must have the capacity for experience. That implies not just a willingness to learn but the courage to take risks in order to gain experience.
Taking risks and the courage to take them varies by degrees. Some risks are dangerous in the sense that the chance of failure or of death cannot be overcome by hard work or preparation. Some risks are just plain stupid. People who take stupid risks hardly rank among those who should qualify as worthy of attention for their wisdom later.
Business risks can often be overcome by hard work, preparation and developing the right employees and contact network. Business success seldom arrives banging on the door of those who refuse to work hard.
Personal experience in terms of relationships stands as the most courageous (or the most foolhardy) of all kinds of experience.
No matter what kind of relationship we think of, trust, commitment and some version of love must be involved for it to work. Yet anyone who has been through several relationships (friends, lovers, spouses, business) knows that the vast majority will not turn out well. They may be useless, but they may also be harmful, both financially and emotionally.
Love relationships seem the most damaging (yet also the most rewarding) to people. Many of these fail because one or both partners really have very little knowledge of what makes a relationship succeed, even of what true love is. Given how little we teach children about love and relationships, indeed how bad are the role models that many parents demonstrate for their children, it’s no wonder that many love relationships and marriage fail for the offspring.
A person who has grown up without a good example of loving relationship in their lives–especially when the love directly involves themselves–begins adult life in search of a kind of human experience of which he has little or no knowledge.
When the majority of experience a person has with love comes from television, movies or parents whose relationship is more business than love, that person lacks the capacity for love because he has not grown up with it. You can’t give what you never had.
Can a person who has grown up in the absence of love gain that capacity as an adult? Let’s say that the odds are against it, given the people we see around us.
Skills and knowledge of love and commitment may be learned from knowledgeable sources–those with wisdom on the subject– but the wise must be prepared to teach and the person in need of knowledge must be prepared to learn.
In the final analysis, a person who has grown up in the absence of love will always have difficulty learning and assimilating the knowledge and putting it into practice on a continuing basis, no matter how much they learn along the way.
Wise people usually want to share their experience and their wisdom. However, they often give up trying to find people who want to learn. Therefore, those who want to learn must ask those they believe have the knowledge and the wisdom.
It’s not an elegant system, but it’s what we have. Knowing how it works will help any person to improve their life.
Yes, it did work for me.
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, striving to encourage people to be more willing to gain experience by expanding their capacity for it.
Learn more at http://billallin.com