Why is wisdom difficult to apply?

It occurs to me that wisdom is not an easy thing.  I think that most of us know what is wise; the difficulty seems to be applying this knowledge.  For instance, our language is riddled with wise sayings.  Many of these have become quite hackneyed and certainly any trawl of facebook or the net provides plenty of wise messages for us.  One concept that everyone is aware of is the idea that if you love someone you have to love them exactly the way they are, you cannot change them.  Despite knowing this, most of us spend the majority of our time trying to change others, or at least wishing they would change.  I am going to take this as a theme to explore in terms of translating our knowledge into application.

When you look at what we control, I have always found Stephen Covey’s model of Circles of Influence and Concern valuable.  Covey represented this as two circles with our circle of influence embedded within our circle of concern.  His point was that it was valuable for us to differentiate between what concerns us and what we can actually influence.  Having worked with this a lot, I have tended to add a third circle that sits within the circle of influence and that is our circle of control.  Thus there are things that concern us that we control but we may or may not be able to influence.  My own experience tells me that all people sit outside my circle of control.  I cannot ultimately control anyone else.  They always have choice.  I might be able to influence them but ultimately that sits within their circle of control.  So if we all know that we do not control others and have to accept them and love them just as they are, why is it so difficult to do so?

The first argument that often comes up is that people confuse loving and accepting people with condoning or colluding with their actions.  At an extreme level, it is possible to accept human beings (and perhaps love them) like Sadam Hussein, Hitler etc.  People often get very angry and say that we must not accept them.  Yet really it is self-evident that we have no choice on this, we have to accept them.  We may choose not to condone what they do, but ultimately we do not have control or influence over them.  Our only choice, really relates to ourselves.  Do we want to love and accept others no matter how awful they might be?  Really this is a choice about our own heart: do we want it to be open or closed?  The irony here is that the subject appears to be other people but is really ourselves.  What sort of feelings do we want to experience?  A closed heart is a very uncomfortable place.

I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

A Poison Tree – William Blake


The second issue here is responsibility.  When we see others acting in ways that we find frustrating or are even self-defeating for them, are we colluding with them failing to take responsibility for themselves if we accept them as they are?  Here we are also touching on what the Buddhists call Idiot compassion.  Again, what is confusing here (or perhaps I lack a sufficiently loving heart – you can judge!) is that accepting others as they are does not mean you cannot act to help them or even point things out to them.  It means that you are not attached to them changing.  Again, it comes back to ourselves.  If we act to help others or even to point out areas they do not see about themselves, perhaps strongly challenge them, all of this is really to do with us not them.  We can do all these things with an open heart as long as we are not attached to them changing.  So sometimes people think that just loving people as they are means not challenging them, not relating to them with the full spectrum of human responses but just being lovely to them.  This is dangerous mostly for us.  If we try to be loving towards someone when we don’t feel it, the dangerous is that we repress our real feelings and our resentment builds.  This can lead to us acting in very unloving ways!  The element we control here is our choice of how to relate to other people and our own responsibility for the consequences.  If we are attached to them liking us, or to them responding a certain way, then we are in trouble.  My children are very skilled at teaching me and keeping me on the money on this one.  If they ask me to do something for them or see me doing something for them, they ask me “Can you do it without resentment? We don’t want the consequences of you being in a bad mood later when you feel you’ve done too much.”  It’s a very good challenge for me and I really have to examine my heart and be honest and even say no at times.

The third issue is being able to differentiate what others can and cannot change.  We all have wonderful abilities and skills but they are different.  This came out recently when I was in France coaching.  The person I was coaching had a chart with the most planets in Scorpio that you could possibly imagine.  Their energy was like nothing I have experienced.  They can (and do) regularly work non-stop with perhaps two to three hours sleep.  They are capable of quite extraordinary levels of competence and work.  The difficulty is that others around them cannot match this.  This person was coming to terms with the fact that others simply cannot and do not work like them.  This was very hard for this person as it seems to them like a lack of effort or simply being poor at their job.  This has always been a work in progress for me.  I am still, as I go along, working out and differentiating, where people simply cannot do things and where it is irresponsibility and sometimes just to confuse me, the two combine, so that sometimes the thing people cannot do is take responsibility for themselves!  What I seem to notice on this one, is that all of us seem to have fatal flaws that appear to be soluble so that for others relating to us, it seems self-evident that we should be able to address them yet we do not.  So thin people think that fat people just lack will power and should be able to diet, organised people thinking messy people should get to grips, active people think less active people should stop being lazy etc.  Personally, I have found astrology to be of enormous value here, because it provides a map of our own and other people’s personalities so it gives us much clearer indications of what people can change and what they can’t.  In our minds, it is analytically very clear what others should do to sort themselves out and make themselves more palatable to us, but what if, horror of horrors, they feel the same about us?

When you look at one simple phrase like “if you love someone you have to love them exactly as they are” you realise that it is a lifetime’s work and riddled with intricate wisdom.  We are often impatient and we feel that because we know this concept we must be able to apply it.  At twenty-six or twenty-seven I was confident that I had a good grip on black holes and wisdom.  It was a shock to discover that knowledge and experience were two different things and it took a nice juicy black hole to illustrate that while I did “know” a number of wise things, I would have to experience them to truly begin to fully understand them.  “yes, yes we say, I know all that” but do we fully understand it?  I think I am beginning to recognise that I am going to carry on learning about the simplest wisdoms for the rest of my life and still die with much to learn.



Filed under On Life the Universe and Everything

2 responses to “Why is wisdom difficult to apply?

  1. Chrissy

    I love your wife’s animals exactly as they are! The kids are nice too.

  2. Chrissy

    And .. I have had quite a few responses to this on my facebook site saying they like it.

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