Some Characteristics of Wisdom
Tom Atlee · September 2003
Wisdom is applied appreciation of the wholeness of life.
Someone or something is wise to the extent
he, she or it arises from and embraces life's wholeness. Through
wisdom we become vehicles or channels for wholeness on behalf
The better we understand wisdom, the more
we will be able to understand its applications to (and in) our
democratic systems. With such understandings we, as communities
and nations, can then apply democratic wisdom to the pressing
problems we face in the 21st Century.
Some of the hallmark chacteristics of wisdom
It embraces the BIG PICTURE -- in any situation, it seeks to take into consideration
the long term, the full story, both objective and subjective worlds,
holistic and system sciences, Spirit, context, and other deep,
It uses MULTIPLE WAYS OF KNOWING -- for example, it uses heart, intuition, story
and spirit as well as facts and reason -- and often arises out
of authentic dialogue among diverse people or perspectives.
It is INCLUSIVE AND OPEN -- to diversity, novelty, otherness, nuance, disturbance,
and other things that are often ignored, excluded or suppressed,
thus being particularly fair and comprehensive in its approaches
and mindful that "there is always more to it than that."
It is INSIGHTFUL AND APPROPRIATE -- even as it is inclusive and vast in its embrace
of reality, it cuts to the essence of what needs to be understood
in a situation -- the most relevant realities that need to be
worked with -- particularly the underlying dynamics, the hidden
resources (often masquerading as problems) and the long-term consequences.
It is HUMBLE AND RECEPTIVE -- recognizing the limitations and relativity of
all perspectives and knowledge, it tolerates (and even appreciates
or surrenders to) uncertainty, paradox, mystery and complexity,
and so is able to entertain (and is often interested in dialoging
with and learning about) diverse viewpoints, information and possibilities,
while being unattached to any particular one, disinclined to blame
and lighthearted about the efforts of life.
It SERVES LIFE
-- caring for and appreciating the sacredness (or unique integrity
and value) of all beings and living systems, it tends to focus
on where life (and passion) are most vivid, and on what is important
for life's healing and flourishing, and so it tends to produce
(or catalyze) broadly beneficial outcomes.
It is GROUNDED IN RELATIONSHIP -- appreciating, practicing, embodying and nurturing
interconnectedness among all things, it serves harmony, balance,
dialogue, co-evolution and healthy feedback that supports and
creatively uses diversity and authenticity.
It has an ELEGANT SIMPLICITY -- using no more (resources, words, force, etc.)
than necessary and often economizing through cooperation (seeing
problems as resources and enemies as allies) and elegant alignment
with the realities of the situation.
It has INTEGRITY
-- embodying courageous commitment to truth -- particularly one's
truth to oneself and one's experience -- which can manifest as
steadfastness or flexibility, depending on where the alliance
with truth leads.
It has PRESENCE
-- a hard to define but compelling quality of imminent, centered,
mature realness that is grounded in deeper/higher realities (such
as experience, Spirit and silence) and so naturally evokes respect,
resonance, trust, and the stirrings of greater Life.