How To Be Wise

Are you a wise man yet? Unencumbered by pettiness? 

I wish I were already, but hey, I do practice a lot. 

But what is wisdom exactly? What do you imagine when you picture a wise person in your mind, and why are you thinking about an old person? Caught you. 

Well, sure, years give you wisdom, but that’s not a given, there are tons and tons of old people that can only show wrinkles as proof of age. Age alone does not give you wisdom, it has to be aided with an effort on your part. The effort, I’m here trying to describe, is to try to live virtuously, to know right from wrong, to be awake and alive. 

A wise person knows better. That’s why age gives you wisdom, it does because it makes you stumble upon the same rock so many times that by the 45th time you’re going to stumble, you kind of remember that there’s a rock there so you should be careful. Nothing teaches you better than a good ol’ fuck up. 

When you’re young, for example, you want everything RIGHT NOW, especially our generations. But as you grow old, you begin to realize that the rewards of life are good but not as good as the memories of the struggle and the toil that they required to be won. What you treasure the most afterward is all the memories where you worked hard and you put yourself on the line, what you treasure is the way the work and play that you put out there, forged you to become what you are today. But, whenever you’re working and struggling, you just want it to be over, forgetting that that’s life. Put enough attention merely on the prices, and you’ll wonder where all the time went. But then again, you learn this with time and by tripping over and over. 

So, up until now. It seems that wisdom is knowledge about stuff in life, it’s about knowing better, but not just that, for this cardinal Stoic virtue to be actually helpful, it needs to be applied. Wisdom is applied knowledge. Is knowing better, and at the same time, acting better.

It is also unending. The job is never done. Just like Umberto Eco’s library. 

“The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore, professore dottore Eco, what a library you have ! How many of these books have you read?” and the others — a very small minority — who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you don’t know as your financial means, mortgage rates and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menancingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.”

― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Wisdom is applied knowledge. 

One of the great characteristics of Stoic philosophy is that it is practical. You need to live right now! So, you should acquire a basic knowledge of life as soon as possible so that you can stop tripping as soon as possible, right? Right. 

So now I’m going to let Epictetus give you the core lesson of wisdom. It’s just one basic lesson, but it is the foundation for everything else. Here it goes:

“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own” — Epictetus

Easy right? Haha, I know it’s not that easy. It always happens to me that I read these golden philosophical nuggets, and then I think that I’m good and ready to live by them, but then go outside to the world, and still get angry, mad, and tossed about by pettiness. 

To own yourself, to know better, that’s the chief task in life. 

Age definitely helps, you’ll trip many, oh many times! Of that, you can be sure, but the secret lies in getting up and remembering the principles you learned so that you can know better the next time.

Do you want to know how to be wise? Go and apply what you just read, you already are. 

Cheers for a life of tripping, and learning, and living! 

Thanks for reading, 

Ricardo Guaderrama

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