Wednesday, April 7, 2010


While an exhortation to “grow up” only vaguely points us in the direction of greater maturity (moving up an undefined developmental ladder), a somewhat clearer admonition would be to “wise up.”

Knowing that not just height but wisdom is our aim leads to seeking what it is to behave wisely and to grow wise, making incremental progress toward an ever-beckoning goal.

While absolute wisdom eludes all human beings, since none can rightly claim to have achieved that state (fallible and imperfect as we always prove to be), we may still aspire to be wiser than we’ve been.

Wising up, then, means making more and more good decisions when we choose, as choose we always must: “Shall I pick this or that, go here or there, leave now or later, take one route or another, say yes or no, vote left or right, thumbs up or down?” And so it always goes.

Making good decisions requires the virtue of prudence, which means the providence or foresight to anticipate and evaluate the consequences of choosing this, that, or the other alternative.

Such prudence usually develops over time through trial and error. Therefore, making wise decisions is a skill developed through painful experiences and learned by failing and then failing better until in time wising up to what ways lead to happier results—though “sadder but wiser” is often our case.

Not only must we anticipate consequences, we must evaluate them, since wisdom means “realizing what is of greatest value to ourselves and others” (in the words of philosopher Nicholas Maxwell), with a double implication in the word “realizing”: to act wisely we must first comprehend (often through sad experiences) which alternatives will prove most gratifying, and then we must work to make them real or bring them into being.

“Wising up,” then, means growing more able to make manageable events serve us all most happily. By such reckoning, we would hope for our President to prove Wizard-in-Chief.