The Wisdom Page

Whatever happened to wisdom?

Jerry Ortiz y Pino recently addressed this question in his column in the Santa Fe Reporter:

[Wisdom is] one of those slightly old-fashioned words, the type that slip out of style because they sound less punchy than the jargon we start using in their place. In time we forget about using it at all. And because the words we substitute aren't quite the same, we're made poorer by the substitutions, losing slices of the original meaning with each change.

So wisdom, good ol' sapientiae in Latin, hardly ever gets airtime these days. Instead, we talk about "cleverness," "I.Q.," "managerial know-how," or any of 50 not-quite synonyms. None of those really are interchangeable with wisdom, but they get used in its place. Meanwhile, wisdom, the original concept, is forgotten.

[Wisdom is] the ability to make sound choices, good decisions. The best decision. Wisdom is intelligence shaped by experience. Information softened by understanding. And it is in very short supply these days.

Wisdom is not something a person is born with. Intelligence is. Cleverness is. The ability to appear dynamic is. But Wisdom isn't. It only comes from living, from making mistakes — or from listening to others who have made mistakes and learned from them.

If wisdom is in short supply among our leaders, we don't have far to look for the culprits. It started disappearing along about the time we stopped expecting it.

If you, too, share Jerry's concerns, browse The Wisdom Page, and if you feel moved to do so, respond with some wisdom of your own.

Want to contribute to a book on wisdom?

I'm Cop Macdonald, the person who tends The Wisdom Page, and author of two of the books mentioned below. As the book excerpts indicate, I am deeply interested in wisdom. Among my current projects are wisdom workshops and the development of wisdom materials for teens. I would also like to write another wisdom book, but to write the kind of book I have in mind, I will need the help of many people. I envision a book in the genre of Studs Terkel's WORKING and Gail Sheehy's PATHFINDERS — a book full of direct comments from a great many people, with all the specifics coming together to form a helpful whole. The resulting book might be titled something like WISDOM FROM THE INTERNET .

Normally, the raw material for such a book would be gathered through personal interviews, with the author doing a great deal of traveling. On the Internet, however, here is everywhere. Could material for the book be gathered without any travel? My guess is that it could be.

The kind of wisdom-related material that I would be interested in receiving includes:

I see this material being shared with the larger community in two ways:

In submitting material to me you give me permission to use it for my purposes while remaining free to use that same material for your own purposes — articles, books, whatever. Any submission that I put on-line or in a book will be credited to its originator unless I am asked not to do that. The same applies to your e-mail address. Because E-mail addresses change so often these days as people switch Internet providers, please also include a postal address with your submission. It will be used only in connection with this project.

Browse the on-line selections from TOWARD WISDOM and GETTING A LIFE, or in some other way start thinking and feeling about wisdom. Then see if you don't have some worthwhile thoughts to share with the rest of us. Address submissions and e-mail messages to:

Books about wisdom and wise living

The books mentioned here represent the first beginnings of a list of wisdom-related books. You are encouraged to suggest others. If you do suggest a book, please include a few sentences that will give readers some sense of it.


Two books by Copthorne Macdonald

Aristotle identified two general types or aspects of wisdom. One deals with existential and metaphysical issues, with the big picture and the meaning of life. The other he called practical wisdom — what Coleridge referred to as "Common sense in an uncommon degree."

TOWARD WISDOM focuses on the existential, metaphysical kind of wisdom, the kind that meditation and other spiritual practices help us develop. The book explores this "Perennial Philosophy" variety of wisdom, including the impediments we face in our quest to become wise, and various ways and means of getting past those impediments.

Primal reality and the Perennial Philosophy are also the subject of an article that appeared recently in ZYGON: Journal of Religion and Science. It makes the case that Perennial Philosophy spiritual teachings are not only compatible with post-modern science, but are made more understandable when we view reality from the perspective of information and carriers of information, of messages and media.

GETTING A LIFE, on the other hand, deals with the practical variety of wisdom. Its 21 chapters each deal with a different facet of everyday life — and with skillful and not-so skillful ways of handling each. It is based on the premise that sometimes just by having something pointed out to us or discussed in a new way or from a new perspective, we are able to click into that uncommon level of common sense that is practical wisdom.


WISDOM: Its Nature, Origins and Development     Robert J. Sternberg, Editor

Published in 1990 by Cambridge University Press, this scholarly book looks at wisdom from philosophical, psychological, and folk perspectives. The book's fourteen chapters by twenty authors are arrange in five groups:

The paperback edition is ISBN 0-521-36718-2

Other wisdom-related resources

It would be nice if this list of resources became a long one. Please make suggestions.


The WISDOM-L Listserv

Ben Gilberti, former Executive Director of The Wisdom Society, operates the WISDOM-L listserve. This mechanism allows Internet participants who are interested in wisdom to communicate, via group e-mail, with others who have subscribed to the list.

To subscribe, send an e-mail message to   with just the following in the body of the message:   subscribe wisdom-L     If done correctly, you will receive an automatic e-mail response confirming that you were successful in subscribing. Once subscribed, sending a message to   results in that same message going to all of the list's subscribers.



Listed here will be organizations concerned with wisdom and wisdom development. Each has its own distinctive slant on wisdom, and its own distinctive programs.

The Wisdom Society

The Wisdom Society focuses on practical wisdom, as it differentiates that kind of wisdom from the metaphysical / meaning-of-life variety. The organization establishes chapters and discussion groups "To debate, in print, all controversial ideas with the objective of finding where reasoned opinion lies."

Contact:  The Wisdom Society, P.O. Box 4126, San Marcos, CA 92069 USA. Phone: 619-931-9834

E-mail: Home Page        Copyright © 1995 by Copthorne Macdonald