The Wisdom Page 




The concept of the Millennium has a different significance for different
people. But all groups and sections would probably agree that it is
critical that the Human Race learns the lessons of history, if we wish to
live within an environment that we might be able to call progress over the
years, decades, even millennia, ahead.

The Human Race has come along way in the last 1000 years. It has come even
further 100,000 but, although you cannot have change without progress, it
is certainly not the case that all change can be defined as progress.
Progress involves value judgments about what is considered to be 'right' or
'good'. You can only have progress if you know where you are going.
However, it is now increasingly recognised that, unless our rate of
learning is greater than the rate of change, it is very unlikely that we
will be able to equate change with progress.

Today, there are many who argue, with some justification, that the New
Millennium provides the Human Race with the greatest learning point in
history. Never before has so much intellectual effort been focused on two
key questions: Where have we come from? and Where are we going?

In attempting to distil 'The Wisdom of the World' as reflected by the
sayings of those who have considered these issues, both practically and
philosophically over past millennia, it is clear that many (perhaps even
all?) of the important messages about the state and future of the Human
Race were made over a thousand years ago, in China, in the Middle East and
other parts of the world where sophisticated societies had developed. Of
course, in the last 1000 years there have been enormous changes, and an
enormous increase in what has been written, but are we really any the
wiser. Has all this increased effort and experience been translated into
effective learning and greater wisdom? This remains an open question.

Perhaps we can be optimistic if we accept the comment of Count Oxenstierna,
(Swedish Statesman,1648) "Dost thou not know, my son, with how little
wisdom the world is governed?" Yet how much better the world would be if we
could make just a small improvement.

As a small contribution to this process I have collected together several
thousand messages, or quotations, that attempt to focus on what it would be
useful for us all to learn, and then pass on to future generations - if we
are seriously concerned about trying to make the world a better place in
the future. They are suggestions for debate; they do not pretend, in any
way, to be, to be definitive.

It is, however, important to make several points on the quotations
themselves. First there is often some uncertainty over the original source
of the quotation. If anyone wishes to take issue with the source please let
me know. The exercise is attempting to be as precise as possible, but the
core message in this exercise is the message itself. This reflects: "Seek
not to know who said this or that, but take note of what has been said."
(Thomas a Kempis, 1379-1471, De Imitatione Christi). The message is what we
really want to pass on. Unfortunately, it is a reflection of our times that
some people are more concerned with attribution than with ensuring the
message is passed on.

There are many problems over the origin of some remarks and who said it
first. Sometimes, even when the quotation itself is well recognised,
research shows that it was based on an earlier version, with a very minor
modification. For example, Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) is attributed to
having said: "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of
giants." While a very similar remark is attributed, many centuries earlier,
to the Roman Poet, Marcus Lucan (39-65) who is quoted as saying: "Pygmies
placed on the shoulders of giants see more than the giants themselves." And
another version attributed to Bernard of Chartres c1120 AD is: "We are like
dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and
things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on
our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and
raised up by their giant size." These differences not only emphasises the
point that we need to focus on the message, rather than the messenger, but
the theme of all three versions is at the very core of this exercise as a
whole. It is also possible that more than one source is given for exactly
the same quotation; over time these which be brought together.

But: "If we still have not learned the lessons of 2000 years of history,
why should we suddenly start being able to learn it now?" (Anon) Perhaps
that quotation is right? However, the case for making an effort is
overwhelming. The New Millennium is a unique opportunity. We cannot afford
to ignore it. Surely, at the very least, things would be much worse if we
didn't even try! Again grounds for optimism?

The important messages appear to be relatively simple. But that could also
support the case for pessimism, as history appears to shows that it is
incredibly easy to ignore the wisdom and learning of earlier Millennia.
This point also reflects the view that, unfortunately, it is much easier to
recycle the words than to put them, effectively, into practice. The world
needs more people who not only understand the importance of wisdom but are
also able to be wise through their ability to apply wisdom effectively in

Dr Bruce Lloyd, Emeritus Professor of Strategic Management, London South Bank University.
103 Borough Road, London SE1OAA,UK. tel: 02078158240.

LINKS TO THE QUOTES (Alphabetical by author)

        A to D         E to J         K to O         P to Z


1. The whole issue of copyright is also obviously important and, if anyone
feels that their rights in this area have in any way be infringed please
get in contact. I do hope anyone affected will support the principle of
this initiative and recognise that, in this case, the interest of future
generations should be our paramount consideration.

2. The currently list available on the World Future Society web site - Current contributions obtained through this channel are
denoted by 'submitted by and/or wfs'; further suggestions/comments are most
welcome, particularly to overcome the weakness from the over reliance on
'Western' sources which, with time, it is hoped to correct.

3. Some quotations have been modified slightly to remove the unnecessary
and outdated sexism; where it is possible, without changing the meaning,
these quotations are marked with a (*).

4. A number of quotations are attributed to 'Anon' and, if anyone can
identify a specific source, this information would be most welcome.

5. A few of the quotations also include some details on the source
information and this area can be developed in the future; but the core
messages are the prime concern of this exercise.

6. An article ‘The Knowledge Economy: What has Wisdom got to do with It?’ at
the end of the exercise, attempts to show how these ideas are important, in
both theory and practice, as they influence the way individuals and
organisations operate within any society, particularly as we are
increasingly concerned with issues related to 'The Knowledge Economy'. )