There are certain traits, certain skills, certain aspects of who each of us is, which are innate at birth. Some people are born musical: they can carry a tune, pick out a harmony, and match a rhythm without conscious thought. Some people are born athletic: they are naturally coordinated, aware of their own body’s abilities, graceful. Some people are born smart: they have the ability to learn quickly with very little assistance, they are able to make connections between seemingly unrelated facts or ideas, they can take a concept and visualize it in a different context.
But there are other traits that must be either earned or learned. No-one is born with the ability to play an instrument; it takes at least trial and error and experimentation, if not lessons from an experienced teacher or an explanation from a book or manual. No-one is born knowing how to play a sport; there are skills to be mastered, rules to be learned, strategies to be studied. No-one is born with wisdom; it is the product of experience, of analyzing how life works, of observing and thinking about and understanding the world.
Most of these learned traits build on a natural skill: a musical person can more easily learn to play an instrument, an athlete can more quickly master the physical skills required for a certain sport. But being smart does not necessarily make it easier to become wise, and being simple does not necessarily make it more difficult. In fact, the opposite is often true.
Yesterday, I wrote about knowledge, and how it is a tool that must be used, and used with skill, in order to matter and to be practical. Wisdom is the acquired skill that is needed to use knowledge to its fullest potential. Most of the time, wisdom comes through years of experience, through watching the results of one’s own decisions and the decisions of those around. But sometimes wisdom can be clouded by our experience, instead of being clarified by it. Sometimes wisdom comes through the simplest observations of a child. Sometimes, the wisdom of an inexperienced child is the simplest and yet the most profound wisdom of all.
I wanted to include a famous quote about wisdom or being wise, and when I looked up some possibilities, there were many familiar choices: Benjamin Franklin’s “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise,” or Voltaire’s “Is there anyone so wise as to learn by the experience of others?” or “Shakespeare’s “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.” But in the end, I realized that the most appropriate choice was both the simplest and perhaps the most profound, and certainly the most appropriate when speaking of the wisdom of children: “Be happy. It’s one way of being wise.”