A recent article by Phyllis Korkki of The New York Times illuminates a topic that has preoccupied scientists, philosophers, and people in general for centuries: What is wisdom, and how does it relate to aging? Also, take one researcher’s wisdom test!
As one of the four cardinal virtues first introduced by Plato in the 3rd century B.C., wisdom remains a fascinating concept.
Korkki writes, “Most psychologists agree that if you define wisdom as maintaining positive well-being and kindness in the face of challenges, it is one of the most important qualities one can possess to age successfully …”
The following is a summary of Korkki’s article, which introduces the leading figures in wisdom research today:
Vivian Clayton thinks that wisdom comprises cognition, reflection, and compassion.
Elkhonon Goldberg, “a neuroscientist in New York and author of The Wisdom Paradox, says that ‘cognitive templates’ develop in the older brain based on pattern recognition, and that these can form the basis for wise behavior and decisions,” according to Korkki.
Monica Ardelt designed 39 questions to measure “three degrees of wisdom,” as Korkki puts it.
Take the test and if you make the grade on Ardelt’s Wisdom Scorecard.
Isabella S. Bick, “a psychotherapist who, at 81, still practices part time out of her home in Sharon, Conn.,” emphasizes the wisdom of embracing the change inherent in the aging process, rather than resigning to it or stressing out about it.
Ursula M. Staudinger, director of the Columbia Aging Center, defines wisdom as “an expert knowledge system concerning the fundamental pragmatics of life.” Dr. Staudinger also breaks down personal wisdom into five parts, here described by Korkki: “They are self-insight; the ability to demonstrate personal growth; self-awareness in terms of your historical era and your family history; understanding that priorities and values, including your own, are not absolute; and an awareness of life’s ambiguities.”
Laura Carstensen, founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, says, “There’s evidence that people who rank high in neuroticism are unlikely to be wise. They see things in a self-centered and negative way and so they fail to benefit emotionally from experience, even though they may be very intelligent.”
Daniel Goleman, author of Focus and Emotional Intelligence, borrows the term “generativity” from the late psychologist Erik Erikson, “who developed an influential theory on stages of the human life span,” according to Korkki. Generativity can be broadly described as giving without expecting anything in return. (Consider it the opposite of Don Corleone’s M.O.)
All of these researchers, authors, and professors are helping us define what it means to be wise, but of course being wise is up to every individual. Who do you know who is wise? How do you define it? How do you strive to achieve it?
Read “The Science of Older and Wiser” by Phyllis Korkki in full at The New York Times website.