I postulate that she who has most fully developed and realized her highest potentials as a human being most deserves to be called wise.
Pardon my gender bias, but I am more optimistic that women will achieve this lofty condition of wisdom than men, since for so many millennia men have dominated women while the world of folly has proliferated, that it seems more likely sanity will have a chance when women have more say and show men a better way. (And by ancient tradition, Dame Sophia is the Goddess of Wisdom, as is Athena, worshipped by the Greeks).
What then are those highest and best human potentials that would constitute wisdom in us?
What besides superior canniness and cunning, born of our more intricate human brains, does Homo sapiens sapiens bring to the biosphere of Earth? How might we rightly be regarded as an advancement beyond other forms of life? And toward what more sophisticated (a word implying wisdom) condition are we evolving?
If evolution is an arrow in flight (as some imagine), where is it aimed? If our race is slowly and painfully “growing up,” and presently exhibiting its turbulent phase of adolescence, then what glimpses may we see of our maturity? Who have been and who now are the harbingers, the forerunners, of Homo sapiens sapiens sapiens? How will we know them?
Here, I think, are some of the qualities and characteristics we should aspire to develop in ourselves if we would manifest and express the latent potential in us to act wisely. Wisdom, I think, is better imagined not as a state of being but as a quality of action, of behavior. Thus we may act foolishly, or we may act wisely, or somewhere between, along a scale running from folly to wisdom. We choose to act one way or another. Choice, then—making the best choice possible when deciding to act or react—indicates how wisely we are behaving.
Since choices lead to consequences, then cultivating our ability to anticipate and reckon in advance the most likely outcomes of our intended actions indicates wisdom in us. Call that capability providence or foresight, one clear sign of wisdom.
Beyond that virtue, though, stands the ability to select from among the probable outcomes of our decisions that which is most valuable and worthy of pursuit. Thus being wise and acting wisely means making choices that produce valuable results, the more widely valuable the better.
In the recent debates over a national policy for health care in America, our Congress has ostensibly been seeking the wisest ways to ensure the best possible care for the health of all Americans, all things considered. In due time Congress will be judged by evident outcomes whether it acted prudently (providently) for the best benefits to citizens, or whether lesser motives that profited some at the expense of all have prevailed, an outcome that would be less than wise.
Philosopher Nicholas Maxwell defines wisdom as “realizing that which is of value to oneself and others.” By that reckoning, you and I will be acting wisely to the extent that we recognize and bring into being (i.e., realize) what serves us and others best. Does it serve truth? Does it serve beauty? Does it serve goodness? If it does, then it is wise and advisable to do.
So saith Dame Wisdom.