Last Saturday 9th of June was World Ocean Day. As tweets, pretty pictures and deep blue video footage passed in front of my eyes, a big blue whale and her calf, placidly sunbathing on the surface of a shiny ocean somewhere, stuck in my mind. This is what wisdom feels like to me. We know that wisdom is a critical leadership quality. Wise leaders know how to wait for the right moment to strike.
They can make accurate decisions about environments they may know little about, and they remain very aware of their own limitations and means to influence circumstances. Wisdom helps us read other people’s behavior to interpret their true motivations. More importantly, wisdom shines so brightly that even the youngest, most impulsive hot-shot is drawn to slow down and think before acting. Such is the power of wisdom.
Yet we’re unsure of exactly how some of us acquire this virtue. Experience is important, for sure. That’s why wisdom is associated to older people, or to those who have made it through significant hardship. Though knowledge and training are more pervasive in our societies than ever before in Human history, true wisdom is scarce. Reading books and doing MBAs or completing doctorate degrees doesn’t necessarily make us wise.
Sometimes it just makes us boring. Where does wisdom come from? We usually associate wisdom with quotes by dead people we have never heard of before. Small pieces of enlightened thinking drift to us constantly on twitter, like a light summer shower we’re unprepared for, and can’t really savor or appreciate. Wise eyes are often surrounded by wrinkles, weathered skin and simplicity: clothes, hair, gestures… Despite so many well-practiced stage performances, scripted videos and intellectual TED talks by sought-after achievers like CEOs, academics or whizz kids, the wiser ones are always quiet little men and women, poorly dressed, with ethnic backgrounds and exotic, or indigenous, features.
Is there something about trendy, cool and civilized that wipes wisdom right out of us? There’s nobody as cool and trendy as a Silicon Valley techie these days. A new craving for something other than fast fortunes, unending lines of app code and venture capitalist deals is hungry for initiatives like the Wisdom 2.0 summit: “Founders from Facebook, Twitter, eBay, Zynga and PayPal, and executives and managers from companies like Google, Microsoft, Cisco … in conversations with experts in yoga and mindfulness.”, as The New York Times defines it.
Now preparing their first European summit in Dublin for next September (www.wisdom2Europe.com), founder Soren Gordhamer and his team are promoting new ways of living and working that leverage technology to achieve more mindfulness, presence and wisdom. Something about being constantly bombarded by emails, instant messaging and too much information is definitely eating away at us, increasing our stress levels and pushing our bodies to succumb under the weight of television, greasy food and sedentary jobs.
Too much speed, too much of everything—in fact– is making us dumb, or numb, or a little of both. And back to the Oceans: powerful currents pushing life around in a living, organic dance of calming silence. Entire communities of species exchanging energy, racing each other to hunt for food, reproduce, grow and then die to feed others. Animals aren’t depressed, they don’t have to think about their weight, and they certainly don’t run marathons around New York’s Central Park out of pure sport. When animals and fish speed up, you can bet somebody’s life is at stake.
Slowing down is definitely a way for technology-enhanced humans to improve our perception and insight. Instead of endlessly alternating between ballistic work weeks or compulsive calorie-burning habits and depressive immobility on weekends, we could do nothing for a change. We could tune in to the natural rhythms of our own organism, while observing the symphonies of Nature: flowers take their time to blossom, leaves change color ever so slowly, ocean tides come in and out like soothing lullabies. Actually making time to simply observe the magnificence of our own Planet is, in fact, just the beginning of true human wisdom.
It’s what the wisest chiefs and shamans of ancient peoples have always done. Earliest expressions of Human cave art around the world invariably depict Nature at its wildest. Doing nothing was the best possible use of wise men’s time. We modern-day intellectuals, however, seem to have forgotten that connecting to the wild, in all its wonderfully unpredictable forms, is the source of our wisdom. We’re too busy running. But please don’t ask us where we’re going… we don’t know. Sometimes, we don’t even want to know. The big blue whale who bathes in the sun with her calf is in constant contact with every sensation in her huge, nurturing body.
She knows such sensations alert her to what is going on around her. So medicating against pain or trying to numb her own sensations would not be wise at all. She enjoys the warmth of the sun as she saves much needed energy and resources for later battles. She effortlessly defines adequate limits and new challenges for her calf, stimulating his development as he dares to put growing muscles and agility to the test. Like the wise leaders I described earlier, she reads other animals’ behavior, accurately judging when and how to escalate her own signals and defense reactions.
Every second that passes is another decision between staying or moving on in an enormous dark pool full of dangers she has no information about. Even the act of giving in to predators shows how wise our wild animals can be. No energy is wasted in the fight for survival. No useless resistance is offered when it’s time to give up. No begging or thinking of what could have been. Wild animals die with exemplary honor, dignity, and selflessness.
As did our earlier, wilder human ancestors in most every aboriginal settlement on the planet. Wisdom comes from the Wild. From our Oceans, our animals and our superiorly designed human bodies. Slowing down to reconcile ourselves with the Wild that lives inside us and around us is our next frontier. Embrace the Wild within you. It will make you wise.