Each New Year brings with it the opportunity to become older and wiser, but must we wait for the years to pass in order to find wisdom?
As children we learnt of wise old owls and silver-haired philosophers or sages, all of which suggest that wisdom comes simply with the passing of time. When younger people elicit a strong sense of knowing or awareness at an early age we commonly refer to them as having “been here before,” or being “wise beyond their years.” It should come as no surprise then that people expect wisdom to simply fall upon them as time rolls on.
Contemporary research into the workings of wisdom, however, have found that wisdom is not so much about the accumulation of knowledge over time, but rather, about perspective.
In the world of positive psychology (the field of psychological science that seeks to explore human thriving and flourishing), perspective is identified as a universal character strength. Meaning some of us are better at demonstrating perspective than others, but all of us can learn more about what it is, and how to flex or strengthen it, like a muscle.
People with the strength of perspective are often sought for their advice. Their viewpoint appears broad, grounded in knowledge, reasonable, and fair. Perspective is about seeing how individual parts relate to each other, and about how they relate to the whole.
Take Maria Popova, profiled in issue 36 of Dumbo Feather, as an example. Maria is the founder of Brain Pickings, a highly successful and addictive blog about “interestingness.” Maria describes it as “a human-powered discovery engine… a subjective lens on what matters in the world and why, bringing you things you didn’t know you were interested in—until you are.” Those of us familiar with Brain Pickings are drawn back to its pages not only for the information itself, but for the curatorial experience. Indeed, Maria’s gift is transforming complex ideas and information into accessible, bite-sized morsels that spark further curiosity and desire for knowledge.
Upon first glance, it’s reasonable to suspect that Maria’s greatest strength is her undying curiosity, her ability to get deeply absorbed in a topic and love of learning. But I suspect her greatest asset is actually her perspective. This is what aids her ability to transform information into something far more powerful and useful.