Friday, October 25, 2013

Wisdom

Each year we ask every student to write a “this I believe essay” so as to help each individual to develop and strengthen his or her unique identity and voice. This is a way for our students to take charge of their lives, lead rather than follow, and commit to something meaningful with a genuine sense of purpose. I also write a yearly “this I believe” essay as this process is certainly a life-long endeavor.

Wisdom - A Kent Denver School Core Value
I believe learning represents the process whereby we convert observations into useful information; integrate information into knowledge; and through application, experience, courage and reflection achieve wisdom. I believe that wisdom should be the goal of school and life.

I believe that the scarcity of wisdom is at crisis proportions worldwide. In fact, if there were an endangered species act in the area of cognition, wisdom should be first on the list.

How can this be? Doesn’t the universal, instantaneous access to a vast array of digital resources provide a bounty of raw material from which wisdom can be distilled? Isn’t there a TED talk that yields wisdom on every major dilemma and issue? Can’t a digital search replace the antiquated trial and error approach of experience? Perhaps. But really, what is wisdom?

Wikipedia (speaking of digital access) defines wisdom as, “a deep understanding and realization of people, things, events or situations, resulting in the ability to apply perceptions, judgments and actions in keeping with this understanding. “
It is clear that wisdom has rational, moral, emotional, cognitive, and psychological dimensions. It combines unique personal attributes with the discovery of truth.  It is a disposition and attitude as well as an ability.

I believe that wisdom is hard to define and includes both objective and subjective elements. Much like US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's famous observation, “I know it when I see it,” wisdom is often revealed  - usually  through good judgment - more easily than it can be defined.

So, why is wisdom in such short supply? First, it is being crowded out by technology. Search engines, smart phones, artificial intelligence, and big data dashboards expedite and facilitate decision making in a way that favors speed and agility in a world that is faced-paced, rapidly changing, and hyper-competitive. Wisdom can appear sluggish, ambiguous, and “totally analog” in a digital world. Wisdom does not travel at the speed of light.

Second, wisdom can be interpreted as “what you know” in a time when everything you need to know you can Google. To paraphrase Thomas Friedman, we have entered an age when people want to know what you can do, not what you know. We have a bias for decisive action over thoughtful reflection.

To Socrates and Plato philosophy was literally the love of wisdom (philo-sophia).  When I started my career the gravitas of quoting Plato would trump quoting a Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. Not so much these days. In many ways, looking forwards has eclipsed looking backwards, and market success has become the ultimate affirmation.

Our goal at Kent Denver School to make sure that the pursuit of wisdom is not crowded out by expediency. I concur with the founding President of Stanford University who said, “wisdom is knowing what to do next; skill is knowing how to do it, and virtue is doing it.” Wisdom blends knowledge of self, understanding of the world, moral courage, dedication to the pursuit of truth, and superior judgment.


I believe that wisdom should be the goal of school and life.

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