Why I'm a Fan of Experience to Build Wisdom

Diane Wing

Reading is a great way to gain knowledge. Attending classes is effective to learn a skill or concept. Yet experience is the keystone of wisdom and an essential component of true understanding. Learning to apply knowledge in the context of daily life is where wisdom is built and reinforced.

When reading something in a book, it is difficult to perceive how that topic or situation looks and feels in reality. It is written through someone else’s perception of it, whether it is an analysis of data or the person’s own thoughts on something. The same is true of someone describing their reaction to something that you have never been through. The missing component is what you think of it and how you experience that topic. It is easy to learn something from a book or to hear a story told by another, but it is not as easy to apply the information in meaningful ways.

For example, studying about those with major depression is very different than personally experiencing it or treating the condition in others. Those who develop expertise in a field do so through repeated interactions with their topic of choice. They continue to study the topic through books and speaking to those who have been in the field longer than they have, but they couple that with testing the concepts on their own. Over time, they are able to see patterns and understand their topic at a deeper level. Wisdom is built and innovation is possible.

Those who feel stuck have reviewed the same information in their minds over and over without adding new information or testing alternative perspectives. They repeatedly tell themselves the same stories and lock-in the brain’s neural pathways to one particular pattern. This mode of thinking becomes habitual as a result. Complaining about the same things day after day, seeking evidence to support your current views rather than opening to alternatives, and allowing old belief systems to persist are ways to maintain the old and outmoded. These approaches arrest growth and prevent wisdom from blossoming.

The only way to overcome this is to apply expansive thinking, adding new information, and trying another way of approaching life in order to shift the neural network to a new form. Depending on the length of time the same neural network has been in place and reinforced, it could take a minimum of thirty days and longer to modify it.

Learning something new every day is a good start. Take that information and apply it to your life so that you can test it for yourself. See if it holds true in the context of your own life. Discover how the new information can be modified or used in a way that provides additional insights. Talk to others who have varying perspectives rather than those who are completely aligned with how you already think about the world. Consider adopting the other’s point of view for an hour or more and see how it feels or how the world looks different through that lens.

The world is an amazing place filled with new things to learn. It is constantly shifting and the ability to change with it builds resilience, lowers anxiety, and allows wisdom to surface in the process. It affords enlightenment and increases understanding.  The ability to accept what has occurred and use the information to gain new insights and apply them with common sense is the essence of wisdom.

Practical use of knowledge within the context of experience and the decision to approach life to gain understanding is the path of the wise person.

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