No matter what you may be wondering about, there is someone who is eagerly waiting to tell you what to think.
The pundits on CNN and FOX will let you know who really won the last presidential debate. The analysts on ESPN will inform you which NFL quarterbacks deserve the “elite” label. And the culture critics will let you know if the opera, play, or symphony that you attended last night was any good.
Of course you could figure all those things out for yourself...
But then you’d have to make a decision to become a critical thinker, and consciously think about what you think about. I believe this critical thinking process is more important to achieving wisdom, than even education. Because the value of any education is directly proportionate to your ability to effectively and productively process what you’re being taught.
This process of critical thinking, by its very nature becomes an ongoing one. A process that provides you with continually increasing benefits. Even exponential benefits, because as your knowledge base builds, you are able to realize higher levels of deduction, insight, and enlightenment.
The process often starts with contrarianism.
But please don’t confuse being a contrarian with automatic wisdom. Because if your default setting is to be a contrarian on everything – you are as easily programmed and misled as the unconscious people who allow others to direct them what to think. Someone only need tell you that it’s sunny outside and they know you will immediately grab your umbrella.
It is only when you question premises, rationally evaluate their merits, and come to a logical conclusion that you break free of doctrines, dogma, and memes.
Another necessary component on the path to wisdom is curiosity.
Curiosity is what creates passion for learning. The most intellectually developed people are usually the most curious. If you want to grow and develop, you must maintain your child-like curiosity about the world around you. Just being curious is not enough, however...
You also need the next component, that of discipline.
Casual curiosity will lead you to investigate things that have surface interest for you. That’s a good thing, because it ignites the spark of learning. But learning of real substance requires discipline.
Meaning that it will require you to go deeper, studying things that never occurred to you, or don’t seem as appealing. Disciplined learning (like a university education, or following a curriculum prepared by a coach or mentor for example) requires you to learn about things you may not have otherwise thought about studying.
For example, I have an audio series on the great philosophies of the world, and another on the principles of Objectivism. They both give me a headache. When I listen to them, I have to pause and replay, look up the meaning of new words, or just stop and process what I just heard so often, that they literally give me a headache.
But that’s the good kind of headache. The type that comes from stretching your brain around new concepts, absorbing new vocabulary, and experiencing fresh thought patterns.
The final component I will suggest for developing wisdom is your capability for discernment.
Discernment is having the ability to form opinions by distinguishing and objectively evaluating information presented to you. This skill is what allows you to make sound judgments.
Unfortunately discernment is a lost virtuosity in today’s world. It is for this reason that we have presidential candidates and other leaders who are able to exploit people; playing on their fears and prejudices. Leaders who do this take people down paths that aren’t for their highest good, and are sometimes dangerous.
As curiosity causes you to explore foundations, and contrarianism causes you to question premises – discernment requires that you evaluate information for danger signs like underlying motives, conflicting principles, faulty logic, incongruent philosophy, or emotional manipulation.
Sadly, there are way too many people walking around today with worthiness and self-esteem issues. They’re desperately looking for people to tell them what to think – to take away the pressure of having to make decisions, discern truth from fiction, and think for themselves.
Simply being smart or educated is not the automatic cure for this…
Oftentimes the smarter you are, the greater the likelihood you are intellectually lazy. This is evidenced by otherwise rational people, supporting a candidate like Bernie Sanders. (As opposed to compassionate but naive, young idealists – who are supposed to support someone like that.) Or otherwise intelligent people of conscience voting for Donald Trump.
Intellectual people realize everything presented to them (including this blog), comes shaded with some bias. When you filter everything through these attributes of contrarianism, curiosity, discipline, and discernment – you increase your likelihood to reach logical conclusions, draw rational inferences, and make sound decisions.
More importantly, each day you move closer toward wisdom.