The Many Faces Of Wisdom

The Many Faces Of Wisdom

Perspectives on Therapy’s Questions

By Irvin Yalom, Mary Pipher, Tara Brach

March/April 2013

You’d be hard pressed to argue that our society places a high premium on wisdom. Thanks in part to the explosive growth in mass media, we’re drowning in information—facts, nonfacts, factoids, opinion, gossip, and flat-out lies. Yet it’s hard to escape the creeping sense that despite what we know or think we know, we’ve never been less wise.

So much about our society seems to be the antithesis of wisdom. So many of the rich and powerful may be smart, but not wise; too often they appear to be barely disguised charlatans, hucksters, scoundrels, fools, or all of the above. Even the idea of wisdom seems to have suffered from a kind of brand degradation: how meaningful can the term be when it’s relegated to glib one-liners in animated movies like Mufasa in The Lion King, Yoda in Star Wars, or Gandalf in The Hobbit? There’s even a recent book, by an Oxford University research psychologist no less, called The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us about Success. Wisdom, how far hath thou fallen!

Nevertheless, genuine wisdom and wise people, however few and far between, are still around. If not, the human race would have self-destructed long ago. But how do we know it when we see it? Is it innate—a genetic gift, like perfect pitch? Do you get it in a sudden burst of enlightenment? Or is it a…

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