GETTING A LIFE Introduction

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GETTING A LIFE   by Copthorne Macdonald


This book is about crafting full, rich, creative, and enjoyable lives for ourselves — lives that are significant, lives that contribute in some way to the world around us. GETTING A LIFE is rooted in the idea that some steps toward wisdom require nothing more than a fresh look at common life situations, nothing more than an appreciation of the difference between skilful and unskilful ways of dealing with those situations. Its premise is that a few truths about everyday life, if pointed out and taken seriously, can make a significant difference in the quality of day-to-day living and our enjoyment of life.

GETTING A LIFE is also a book about applied, practical wisdom. Aristotle differentiated between two aspects of wisdom — one addressing existential and metaphysical issues, the other addressing everyday life. The poet Coleridge called this second practical variety of wisdom, "Common sense in an uncommon degree."

An earlier book of mine, TOWARD WISDOM, dealt mostly with the meaning-of-life kind of wisdom — the big-picture, existential kind. It is this aspect of wisdom that spiritual paths help us develop if we are willing to make the necessary (and often considerable) commitment of time and effort. Practical wisdom, on the other hand, is much more accessible.

Although wisdom has not been discussed much during the past fifty years, most of us do have some rough, fuzzy sense of what the word means. For many people wisdom simply means lots of knowledge. But wisdom is more than that. While there is not yet one sharp, clear definition of wisdom that everyone agrees upon, efforts are being made to bring the concept back into common use and to refine our understanding of it. Academic researchers and others are investigating wisdom and are attempting to get a clear picture of its constituents.

I don't have a final, complete understanding either, but I'd like to share with you my present sense of the nature of wisdom. In my view, wisdom comprises certain extraordinary

Each item on the list that follows strikes me as an element of practical wisdom in the sense that each makes a real, useful, practical contribution to the life of the wise person. Also, some constituents of wisdom that were only of philosophical interest in Aristotle's time are today of extreme practical importance. For instance, our world is currently experiencing negative impacts from billions of technology-equipped, self-interested people, and these impacts threaten the long-term viability of the biosphere. Being able to see interconnectedness and appreciate oneness (characteristics listed below) might well be essential for preserving that viability.

Wise Attitudes:

Wise Ways of Being:

Wise Ways of Seeing:

Wisdom is not an absolute. Not all of these qualities need be present to an equal degree in each wise person. But in any person worthy of being called wise, many of them will be present and relatively well developed. Often, wise people will have developed a few of these qualities to an exceptional degree. The particular qualities developed will differ from person to person, and this results in each wise person's wisdom having a distinct character or "flavour."

The world is not divided into wise and unwise people. None of us is perfectly wise or totally unwise. As I see it, each of us is wise to the extent that the characteristics just listed are part of us, to the extent that we actually live them. If we want to become wiser people, we need to further develop these characteristics and incorporate them into our lives. Fortunately, the acquisition of wisdom is not something that we must leave to the whims of fate, as many in the past have assumed. Wisdom can be developed intentionally. Wisdom can be learned. Living skilfully helps us develop greater wisdom, and greater wisdom helps us live more skilfully. The two are intimately entwined.

GETTING A LIFE attempts to reinforce our best intuitions and intentions, lead us to some fresh insights about everyday life, and help us develop that uncommon degree of common sense. The first sixteen chapters focus on the life-building process and on various challenges associated with daily living. They discuss skilful and not-so-skilful ways of dealing with these challenges. In the process, we are introduced to some wiser-than-usual ways of looking at the situation — to some perspectives that promise to change our lives for the better. The final five chapters deal with ways of developing wise responses and attitudes toward life happenings, plus some wise ways of seeing and interpreting the data of life. The aim of this final part of the book is to guide us toward those all-win mind spaces that are enjoyable to experience, good for us, and indirectly benefit others.


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