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May 28, 2012 / compassioninpolitics

How can one develop wisdom in decision making?

The following short article clip discusses some of the research around wisdom (and its various benefits), as well as some ways to cultivate wisdom (and avoid its opposite):

Interesting Research Findings About Wisdom

Wisdom is a positive predictor of successful aging. In fact, wisdom is more robustly linked to the well-being of older people than objective life circumstances such as physical health, financial well-being, and physical environment (Ardelt, 1997; Baltes, Smith, & Staudinger, 1992; Bianchi, 1994; Clayton, 1982; Hartman, 2000).

In a fascinating study of women through midlife, Hartman (2000) found that those women who made major changes in the domains of love and work were higher in the development of wisdom by midlife. Interestingly, she found that making life changes in the 30s appeared to have a particularly positive effect on the development of wisdom.

Experiencing stressful life events across time can facilitate the development of wisdom–up to a point. People seem to benefit from stressful life experiences, particularly if they respond well to them. But as the ratio of negative to positive life experiences tips in favor of the negative, wisdom is inhibited (Hartman, 2000).

Wisdom is distinct from intelligence as measured by IQ tests (Sternberg, 2000). Indeed, Sternberg goes so far as to suggest that intelligent, well-educated people are particularly susceptible to four fallacies that inhibit wise choices and actions. You can read more about these fallacies in Sternberg’s entertaining book Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid (2003), but I will summarize them here. As you read the list, see if you can generate relevant examples of famous political and business leaders who have been susceptible to these fallacies!

==> The Egocentrism Fallacy: thinking that the world revolves, or at least should revolve, around you. Acting in ways that benefit yourself, regardless of how that behavior affects others.

==> The Omniscience Fallacy: believing that you know all there is to know and therefore do not have to listen to the advice and counsel of others.

==> The Omnipotence Fallacy: believing that your intelligence and education somehow make you all-powerful.

==> The Invulnerability Fallacy: believing that you can do whatever you want and that others will never be able to hurt you or expose you.

Developing Wisdom

==> In addition to watching out for the four fallacies listed above, consider the following wisdom-building activities compiled, in part, by psychologist Jonathan Haidt:

==> Read the works of great thinkers and religious leaders (e.g., Gandhi, Buddha, Jesus, Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela). Read classic works of literature. Contemplate the ?wisdom of the ages.?

==> Think of the wisest person you know. Try to live each day as that person would live.

==> Look up prominent people in history and learn their views on important issues of their day.

==> Volunteer at a nursing home and talk with residents about their lives and the lessons they have learned.

==> Subscribe to two news editorial publications that are on opposite ends of the political spectrum (e.g., The National Review for the conservative perspective and The Nation for the liberal perspective). Read them both and consider both sides of the issues.

Remember that wisdom, like all of the character strengths we will cover in this series, exists on a continuum and can be developed with effort.

I hope you enjoyed this newsletter! See you in two weeks when we discuss the character strength Bravery.


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