What is Wisdom?

A recent article in the New York Times titled, “The Science of Older and Wiser,” drew me in immediately. The thrust of the article, as the title suggests, is how personal wisdom is impacted by the aging process. Definitely interesting stuff, but that’s not what grabbed me. What I found absolutely fascinating was the definition, stated early on, that researchers traditionally apply when studying “wisdom.”

According to the article, “wisdom consists of three key components: cognition, reflection, and compassion.”

What a thought-provoking definition! Superior cognition – the smarts that we are born with – comprise just one-third of experts’ understanding of the term. Those who are truly wise, the definition asserts, are masters of reflection and compassion as well. Two skills that we, as individuals, can employ and perfect on our own choosing!

A second reason I was drawn to the definition was its direct correlation to the skills that I ask my clients to draw on in telling me their own life stories. Cognition, of course, is important in recalling the moments that hold particular significance for us. But reflection is also critical – how do we understand those moments now, years later, in retrospect? And compassion – considering with kindness, why family and friends may have behaved the way they did – also sheds a light on our stories that could not be illuminated otherwise.

As I said, this article captivated me. And educated me profoundly. Wisdom, I learned, is a trait that we fully control. And wisdom, once an elusive term according my thinking, is truly the key to telling a meaningful life story.