We’ve had the “Age of Reason.” Can we please try an “Age of Wisdom?”

Which raises the question: what’s the difference? Here’s my take:

Wisdom is the ability to make decisions based on personal knowledge, experience, and deep understanding. It involves a holistic grasp of circumstances, including their moral, social, and practical aspects. It’s characterized by insight, ethical understanding, compassion, and the ability to see the big picture. It often involves considering the well-being of others and the long-term consequences of actions.

Wisdom is applied in complex, uncertain situations where there may not be a clear right or wrong answer. Or where there may not be enough data to make a ‘reasoned’ choice. It requires an integration of knowledge, experience, and moral values. And maybe intuition. It’s generally developed over time, through challenging life experiences, reflection, and an ever-deepening understanding of Life.

Some examples of Wisdom:

  • Choosing not to retaliate in anger: Even when you’re deeply hurt or offended. Wisdom guides us to respond with patience and understanding. Wisdom considers the long-term relationship and the well-being of all concerned, rather than just reacting based on our immediate feelings.
  • Offering forgiveness: Wisdom guides us to forgive someone who has wronged us, understanding that holding onto anger hurts us more than it affects them. “Anger is like drinking poison to hurt the other guy.” This can only come from an understanding of human nature, the value of peace, and the importance of moving forward — all learned in the School of Hard Knocks.
  • Making a career decision based on more than just salary: When faced with a career choice, Wisdom considers not only the finances but also the job’s alignment with your values and passion. And it considers the impact on your significant others.

Reason, on the other hand, is thinking logically and analytically. The ability to analyze information, deduce conclusions, and solve problems using logical thought processes. It’s characterized by logic, objectivity, and coherence, and relies on evidence, logic, and analysis to arrive at conclusions.

Reason is essential in scientific inquiry, mathematical problem-solving, and any context requiring critical thinking. It can be developed through education, intellectual practice, and the study of logic and critical thinking skills. And it’s not as dependent on personal experience as Wisdom.

Some examples of Reason:

  • Solving a math problem.
  • Evaluating scientific evidence.
  • Making a decision based on pros and cons. The “Ben Franklin” technique of making a list of all the pros and cons is a classic ‘rational’ approach.

In short: Wisdom integrates emotional intelligence and ethical considerations with knowledge, whereas Reason focuses on logical processes and objective analysis. Wisdom encompasses a broader range of human experiences and values, considering what is good for oneself and others, while Reason is focused on the correctness of logical form and empirical evidence.

Wisdom’s development is deeply entwined with personal growth and moral understanding, something that hopefully grows with age and experience. Like the old saying, “Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.” In contrast, Reason can be systematically taught and developed through structured learning and practice.

An example of Wisdom vs. Reason in practice would be lending money to a friend:

  • Reason’s approach would analyze their ability to repay, the impact on your financial situation, and past experience of their reliability. Thinking like a loan officer and crunching the numbers.
  • Wisdom’s approach would also consider the strength of your relationship, the friend’s circumstances, and the potential emotional impact of your decision on both of you. It might guide you to lend the money as a gesture of support, possibly without expecting repayment, understanding the value of friendship and the importance of generosity. Sometimes we all just need a break.

We live in an age of unprecedented access to information, while Wisdom is not so easy to find. We live in an age of unprecedented access to ‘content,’ while Art – something that changes how we see the world for the better — is not so easy to find.

But if we keep thinking the way we’ve been thinking, and keep doing what we’ve been doing, we’ll keep getting what we’ve been getting. Yet, when I look around, it sure seems to me that ‘business as usual,’ keep doing the same old same old, just isn’t going to cut it anymore.

In short, we’ve had the Age of Reason. Can we please try an Age of Wisdom?

— William Zeitler

This article originally appeared on SubStack.

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