THE WISDOM IMPERATIVE
by Alan Nordstrom
Although life as we human beings know it will never be perfect (nor would we want it to be), it can be demonstrably good, better, and best.
It can also, of course, be miserable, as it has been throughout history for millions and millions of people, largely because we have made it so ourselves with our vices, follies, and ineptitudes.
Yet it’s good news, hopeful news, to recognize the great capacity we have to ameliorate our misery by taming our vices, curbing our follies, and learning how best to become happy, to be happy, and to stay happy as human beings in concert with each other.
The science of human happiness is called Wisdom, and those who know best how to achieve and maintain happiness we call Wise. The long heritage of that ancient science of sages who have pondered the secrets of happily living with ourselves and with others is called the Wisdom Tradition.
That tradition continues to be elucidated even now when we need it most—since our technological sciences have finally yielded us the power to decimate our planet. For human beings finally to grow wise, a blessed luxury in former times, has now become necessary for everyone. Just one fool with a plutonium bomb in a suitcase can wreak more havoc than a tsunami, a category-five hurricane, and an earthquake combined.
I don’t say the odds are good that we’ll avert such idiocy and won’t inflict horrendous calamity upon the world. History suggests we will. But our past is not our potential, and we do hold in us the potential to grow wiser and wiser, both individually and institutionally. And that’s a hope for happiness we need to nurture. I would call it the Wisdom Imperative.
We flatter ourselves as a species that we are Homo sapiens sapiens, but rather than being doubly wise, we typically act like half-wits possessed by primitive, reptilian impulses. How then do we learn to grow wise? How do we rescue ourselves from our aberrant primal emotions and allow the higher regions of our evolved intelligence to prevail?
We begin, I think, by acknowledging the existence of wisdom, recognizing its venerable tradition, and earnestly seeking out its secrets—now more readily available than ever to those who choose to look for them and to practice the sciences of happiness that can save us from our insanity.