(*An excerpt from Joe’s new book coming out later this year – To read Part – I click here)
Extraordinary Wisdom – Part II
“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” – Thomas Jefferson
The Relationship Between, Wisdom, Honesty, & Ego
If we are to be wise and act wisely, we must be able to discern and judge what is true and what is right. Thomas Jefferson, in this chapter’s opening quote, identifies the causal relationship between honesty and wisdom. You cannot have wisdom without honesty. Honesty first and foremost with yourself, and then with others.
At first take, getting honest with ourselves seems simple. While seemingly the concept is simple …it is not easy. Scientific research tells us that we all believe we are much more honest then we actually are.
Why is it so hard? Because honesty requires a willingness to see-k the truth in any and every situation, regardless of your predetermined beliefs or conditioning. Which means, you must be able to go beyond the barriers your ego creates. The barriers which protect your inner sense of self so as to maintain that which you project outwardly to others. The biggest factor preventing us from seeing ourselves honestly is that we don’t like change. Especially, when it comes to changing ourselves.
And although we dislike change, our ego despises it. Our ego is more invested in keeping things just the way you are, it attributes change with being wrong, flawed, bad, or less than perfect.
Obtaining wisdom, requires a deep level of honesty. When honesty goes up, wisdom goes up. When honesty takes a nose-dive, so does our ability to think and act wisely. Increasing our wisdom requires taking a long hard look into the areas of our lives where we are missing the mark. Once we identify those areas we simply need to admit that we are misaligned with who or what we want to be. It is important to make sure we do not make ourselves bad or wrong nor that we shovel heaps of shame and guilt upon ourselves. We simply need to admit we are misaligned.
Earlier, in Chapter 4, I stated that the biggest obstacle to change was our ego. I also shared that to move forward we needed to dissolve our ego’s. This was done by letting go of our desire to be in control and be right. The remedy was large doses of humility and acceptance.
If we can reduce our dependency on the ego, we can begin to get honest with ourselves and each other. This is the path to wisdom. You can’t get there if you allow your ego to keep tripping you up.
There is an inverse correlation between the ego and wisdom. When ego goes up, wisdom goes down. When wisdom goes up, the ego is diminished. If your ego is over-inflated due to a need to protect your beliefs and your sense of self-worth and value, you will be blinded. Blinded from the truth about yourself and others.
It becomes a matter of seeking the truth! So where do we go to discover our truth?
See-king the Whole Truth & Nothing But the Truth
Deciding what is the truth, is where it gets a bit tricky for me. How do I discern what is true? How do I know what is right? According to who?
What we were taught, how and where we were raised, our level of education and experiences all form how we see the world and what we determine is real. And that becomes our version of reality, our version of what is true and right. Which means we all hold differing beliefs, we all have different versions of the truth. A young girl raised in Uganda and a young boy raised in the upper east-side of New York City will have vastly different versions of reality and therefore what they believe to be the truth.
So where or whom do you turn to, to find the truth? The media, your parents, your politicians, your peers, your church … Alexa? Does this mean you decide what is right or true?
We all know people who can justify behaviors which we find to be quite far from the “truth” or what we believe to be “right.” Haven’t we all, at one time or another, justified behaviors in our past that we now know were not healthy or harmed others? Haven’t we all made wrong choices at times?
Even if we have acquired some amount of wisdom, it doesn’t guarantee that we will always act wisely. We all know very wise people who at different times, made some very unwise decisions.
The Dualistic Mindset
History shows us that disparities in the defining of what is the truth is at the core of most, if not all conflicts. Much of what folks argue about is defending their beliefs about what is true or right. While some issues can be resolved with this either or mindset the more complex issues can not.
We refer to this either or type of thinking as a dualistic mindset. Dualistic thinking assumes a world where there are only two possible mutually exclusive choices. It means that we see something or someone as either all good or all bad, all right or all wrong, all good or all evil and all positive or all negative. Complex issues and challenges can not be solved with black and white, cut and dried, either or thinking. Life in all of its complexity really isn’t that simple, even though we would like it to be.
The decision whether to walk in front of a speeding vehicle at a crosswalk should be a simple clear cut decision. The decision whether or not we should drink cyanide should be as clear cut as whether we walk in front of a speeding car. In both situations, the answer should be a resounding… HELL NO!
History has taught us that when you add complex factors or issues into the mix, issues like religion, politics, human nature, relationships, and especially God, bad decisions can be made, unwise outcomes can happen, and sometimes horrific tragedies can take place.
Duality and Complex Issues
On November 18, 1978, in Jonestown, Guyana, 909 people including 304 children died of an apparent mass suicide by ingesting cyanide. The founder, Jim Jones, died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. All of this unfolding just hours after U.S. Representative Leo Ryan was killed on the airstrip in Guyana attempting to leave. He was there to investigate claims that U.S. citizens were being held against their will.
What might be a simple yes or no decision for you and me became a convolution of religious and political beliefs resulting in a horrific tragedy. The point here is not to discuss the morality of Jonestown, even though the conclusion drawn seems obvious. The point here is how our own individual or group beliefs can drive us to make incredibly unwise decisions.
When we are emphatic about our beliefs, when we believe them them to be the absolute truth, we limit our ability to see the bigger picture.
To say any group, race, political party, country, etc. which doesn’t align with our beliefs are evil and we are all good is simply not the truth. All we are doing is projecting our beliefs on the world so we can feel better about ourselves and above our fellow human. And while it may feel good in the short-term, we drastically reduce our ability to possess the wisdom needed to find a mutually inclusive solution to the problem or issue.
We humans take great pride in placing labels on people and things and placing them in finite boxes. For some reason or other it makes us feel safe, right, better than, etc. Again it does nothing to move us forward as homo sapiens, as wise people, as members of this human race.
Question to Reflect: Where in my life am I applying an either / or, black and white, exclusionary mindset to a more complex issue?
Next week we wrap up our Extraordinary Wisdom Series with Part III – Possessing a Non-Dualistic Mindset: The Pathway to Wisdom.