The Four Features of Wisdom

Wisdom is an ability to use knowledge, common sense, and experience when thinking and performing an action. This notion is associated with unbiased judgment, compassion, ethics and benevolence. It is generally thought that wise people are optimistic about life’s challenges, and share the opinion that all the problems can be solved. Wisdom also requires certain intelligence, and an ability to see the big picture. A person may acquire this skill only through personal experience, although, it does not automatically make an individual wise, as it requires certain cognitive opportunities and careful analysis. Confucius once said that said, “by three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest” (Miller, 2020, para. 5). The process of turning experience into wisdom is still being researched and remains unclear, however, there are specific features, characterizing it.

Wisdom is the strength of an individual’s character, which is developed with time, due to the strong efforts of this person. There are numerous ways for developing this skill, such as reading classic literature and works of famous thinkers, volunteering at a retiring home, and talking to people there about their lives, and many others. Wisdom is composed of many elements, such as cognitive components, including knowledge and experience, reflective components, implying analytic abilities, and prosocial components, meaning compassion and benevolence. It is also connected to other skills such as open-mindedness, and perspective-taking.

Wisdom is typically developed as the result of reflection on previous experiences. Wise people analyze their observations and opinions and consider different points of view before making a certain conclusion. Such people are usually open to new ways of thinking, without being afraid to change something in their lives. By doing so, they cultivate their wisdom, improving their judging abilities. There are four foundational elements, contributing to the development of this trait:

  • Openness to the world, to various ideas, experiences, and people;
  • Attentiveness towards other people;
  • Emotional intelligence, meaning the understanding of the surrounding people’s emotions;
  • Reflectiveness, allowing analyzing the received experiences, and making the right conclusions.

Psychologists all over the world continue researching wisdom, and the process of its acquisition. There are multiple theories, explaining the phenomenon, for example, the Balance Theory of Wisdom of Robert Sternberg (Miller, 2020). This approach defined wisdom as “using one’s intelligence, creativity, common sense, and knowledge” (Miller, 2020, para. 17). The goal of this process is to achieve a balance between adaptation to current circumstances, shaping of those environments, and selecting new conditions. Moreover, in wisdom, five types of character strengths are being distinguished. The first one is creativity, which includes originality and adaptiveness. The second one is curiosity, implying an interest in different experiences, exploring and discovering new ideas. The third element is judgment, meaning an ability to think things over by a thorough analysis. The fourth feature is the love of learning, signifying a desire to master new skills and acquire additional knowledge. The last strength is perspective, implying an ability to see the personal role and the essence of others in the world.

From a personal experience, a case illustrating wisdom is a situation with my friend John, who is a top manager of a company, and who has 50 people under his command. Once, one of his team members made a serious mistake, which resulted in the loss of money. The guilty individual was devastated, as it was an accidental event, which happened due to the fault of the whole team, but this person was the one to blame. John had to order punishment for this individual, however, being a wise leader, he suggested they come to do their work during the weekend, instead of imposing a fine, which would seriously affect the financial condition of his worker. This was an illustration of wisdom, as it is always easy to judge and punish, but finding a better, less damaging solution for everyone involved, is a better way.

In conclusion, wisdom is an acquired trait, which is developing during the whole lifetime of the person. There are numerous ways for working on it and improving this quality, such as reading and communicating with people, who lived long lives. Wisdom can appear on the basis of the past experiences of an individual, due to the process of thorough analysis. However, it requires certain cognitive abilities, and the fact that a person has lived a long life does not necessarily mean that he has become wise. This is a skill that requires much effort and constant work.


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PsychologyWriting. "The Four Features of Wisdom." September 19, 2023.