Many of us sometimes feel a bit lost. We can be paralyzed by decisions and end up feeling emotionally numb. Do you ever feel like you need to reconnect with some inner compass? The answer could be found in developing practical wisdom.

But what exactly is practical wisdom? In this post, we will explore its history. From all the way back to Aristotle to how it is thought of today. After uncovering the virtues of practical wisdom, you will discover why you need it and how to develop it.

Aristotle and Practical Wisdom

Much of our knowledge and thinking around practical wisdom goes back to Aristotle. Interestingly, Aristotle’s thinking went against his teacher Plato. Plato thought that wisdom was not practical but only attainable in the realm of theory and abstract thought.

In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle outlines how practical wisdom is a moral or intellectual basis for our actions. While similar to the skills of a craftsman (to build a table) or a pianist (to play the piano), practical wisdom is a moral skill, rather than an artistic or technical one. We know what to do and the reasons behind our decisions.

Life, for Aristotle, is a constant stream of choices. It can be when choosing to be loyal to a friend, or how to be just, or how to cope with risk, or when and how to be angry—and making the right choices demanded by wisdom. Practical wisdom formed a significant part of his thinking on ethics. Moreover, it is still hugely influential on our thinking today.

Why Do You Need Practical Wisdom?

Today, much of our society is in desperate need of practical wisdom. Societies are increasingly complex and bureaucratic. Rather than focusing on what we can do ourselves, we tend to follow rules and go through life unequipped. However, as Aristotle suggested, we need wisdom when making choices. Should I take that job? Am I with the right person? Etc.

In the real world, nobody can tell you how to live your personal life. You can follow societal rules or laws set by governments, but these are not the best guides. When it comes down to it, you have to decide. As the decisions you make can have such profound consequences on your happiness and wellbeing, developing the guiding compass of practical wisdom is a must.

The wisdom to answer questions such as these and to live the right way is a practical process, not a theoretical one. It is reliant on our capacity to perceive a situation and to consider what the appropriate response is. We need to know when to act, when to feel, when to desire, and in what ways.

It is not a selfish pursuit. Developing this type of wisdom can be very beneficial to friends and family around you. You’re likely to be a more understanding person, who makes wiser decisions, and is generally nice to be around.

If you struggle with making decisions and are unsure of the ‘right choice’, developing practical wisdom can give you some guidance. It can also help you tap into an inner understanding, often referred to as intuition.

Intuition

Intuition is nonconscious thinking. Essentially, the brain on autopilot. Viewed by some as being a mysterious process, intuition and its relationship with practical wisdom are gaining increased interest. Our ‘intuitions’ are innate opinions. Whilst some are common-sense, some are sophisticated. Others are particular, general, more firmly held, or some less.

In his study, Robin Hogarth explores the basis for intuition in psychology. It is a normal and important component of thought that has its roots in the processes of tacit learning. It incorporates an appreciation of environment, attention, experience, and expertise. Understanding our intuition is a step on the way to being able to develop practical wisdom.

How to Develop Practical Wisdom?

In their exploration into the topic, Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe look at the history of practical wisdom and it’s application today. They offer 6 rules to follow to develop practical wisdom:

  1. Fully understand the proper goals of the activity you are engaged in.

    To help yourself or others, it is important to do the right thing to reach these goals.

  2. Improvize.

    To be able to adapt to a given situation and be aware of a changing environment in which strategies may need to change.

  3. Be perceptive, especially of the attitudes of others.

    Remember that social norms may change from context to context. You also need to be aware of these changes to change your behavior.

  4. Build up experience.

    Practical wisdom is something that can be learned and developed. Like all skills, practice and repetition are key to its development. In your daily life, listen to others, be caring, and be loyal. Behave with honesty and a sense of justice.

  5. Be empathetic and understand others’ perspectives.

    Everyone thinks differently and this affects how we behave. Putting yourself in the shoes of another person allows you to understand why they may be acting in a certain way.

  6. Combine reason and emotion.

    This will allow you to understand what others’ emotional signals mean and respond in a reasoned way. It is an educated emotional response to situations.

By undertaking these steps you can start on your journey to develop practical wisdom. Live life every day with consciousness and awareness of what is going around you. The key is experience.

Always try to experience life with your eyes open. Life itself is to be practiced and, with practical wisdom, you can do so in an enriching and thoughtful way.


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