Here are some of the sources of wisdom – ways to comprehend a bigger picture – that can help us think about how to incorporate more wisdom into our governance processes.
1. DIVERSITY + QUALITY DIALOGUE – Diverse ordinary people deeply hearing each other and exploring towards shared discovery can generate wisdom that is profoundly important to themselves and relevant for their communities or societies. Diverse stakeholders from diverse sectors involved in any given issue or area of human concern can discover new approaches that serve them all, if they are given adequate help to do so. Diversity itself is an extremely potent resource for wisdom and resilience, as long as all parts of the whole can interact in ways that serve the whole. Conversational facilitation and the use of powerful questions are usually key to helping people hear each other well, to call forth creative energies, and to open up differences into a larger picture that reveals insights and resources for wiser, more potent action.
2. HOLISTIC AND SYSTEMS SCIENCES – Systems thinking can help us understand underlying causes and take into account how things are interrelated, how wholes and parts influence each other through power relations, resonance, feedback dynamics, flows, motivating purposes, and life-shaping narratives, habits, and structures. Living systems theory, ecology, chaos theory and complexity science, cybernetics, cognitive sciences, consciousness studies, integral medicine, quantum, field and relativity physics, cultural anthropology, indigenous science, etc. – all these and more reveal deep patterns of wholeness. We need to see nature, in particular, as a teacher – thanks both to its many evolved solutions and to its vivid embodiment of interconnected functionality and sustainability. In a world where reality is a complex, interconnected, evolving whole, we need the capacity to see the details and dynamic patterns that make up that whole in order to take into account what is most important in any situation.
3. SPIRITUAL/WISDOM TRADITIONS – Every spiritual tradition has wisdom to offer, from the all-embracing unity and liberation paths of Eastern religions to the compassionate teachings of the Abrahamic faiths to the sacred sense of place, nature and relationship found in so many indigenous traditions. Through ecumenical inquiry and partnership with science, these traditions can find potent common ground and insight, notably epitomized by the almost universal Golden Rule which no society has yet fully embraced in its internal and external affairs. Anything approaching universal truth will tap into the compelling patterns of biological, human and spiritual kinship that lie deep within us and make us resonate with the beings around us. Compassion, empathy, unity-consciousness, brotherhood/sisterhood, and some forms of aesthetics and conscience are all rooted here in the resonant inner life of our interconnectedness.
4. MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCES – We can deepen and fill out our comprehension by integrating reason, logic and facts with intuition, emotional intelligence, narrative intelligence, body awareness, spiritual sensibilities, and all our other human ways of apprehending the world. This also involves presenting information in diverse ways and media – words, graphics, videos, drama, activities, etc. – to accommodate diverse learning styles, so people who see the world through different cognitive lenses can work together to paint richer communal pictures that clarify more of reality for all of them. Cognitive diversity has been found to be one of the primary factors in the ability of groups to generate collective intelligence. Of course, we need the capacity to help these diverse approaches work together well instead of impeding each other.
5. SEEING INTO DEEP TIME AND SCALE – We are embedded in time that stretches from the distant past to the far future, and has tremendous depth in the present moment. So if we wish to truly consider what’s going on and what’s needed, we need to think about the big picture and the long term. Wisdom grows as we step out of limiting perspectives to understand (and creatively use) histories and energies from the past, current contexts and trends, future ramifications and needs, larger and smaller scales, and other mind expanding perspectives. Wisdom arises from being fully present and understanding history and consequences, especially as seen by those involved with diverse experiences and perspectives.
6. TRULY INCLUSIVE APPROACHES. To the extent all people involved in a situation contribute to, engage with, and believe in any final approach, that resolution will wisely address what needs to be addressed and will get implemented well. Don’t be satisfied with mere majority voting and resistant minorities. Dig deeper into shared values and needs. Seek out people’s concerns and make a sincere effort to satisfying them in ways that move group support closer to a sizable supermajority or a breakthrough that all participants are pleased with. Note that shallow, reluctant agreements, compromises, and side-issue bargains cannot be wise since they leave important realities still hidden and unaddressed within the remaining disagreements, as well as stoking energies that resist implementation.
7. HEALTHY INFORMATION ECOSYSTEMS. If we want to take into account what needs to be taken into account for longterm broad benefit, we need information about what’s important to take into account. We need that information to be as true and relevant as possible as well as accessible and fairly complete, containing a fruitful range of dimensions and perspectives. AND we need to use whatever information we have not as a final arrival spot (certainty), but as a launch pad for further inquiry. Thus we also need a healthy ecosystem of information and information sources around us within which we can productively and creatively pursue those needed inquiries. Using information in that way – and thus being a contributing participant in our healthy information ecosystem – involves us being humble and curious, able to hold diverse information in suspension while we explore its truth value and potential for deeper insight. Ideally, this is done with others as a shared journey towards ever greater understanding.
8. USING DISTURBANCE CREATIVELY. Wise approaches seek to comprehend the whole, as much as possible. Thus a powerful factor in wise outcomes is the evocation and creative use of the potential energies and insights hidden within all kinds of disturbance. Dissent, apathy, trauma, violence, oppression, disruption, problems, crises, even minor upsets and resistance don’t just exist to be tolerated, solved or suppressed. Although we tend to turn away from them, they all have gifts of wisdom and resourcefulness to offer if we can capably engage with them into deeper wholeness, understanding, partnership, and liberated aliveness. To the extent we become masters at attending to the light forms of disturbance early and well, we generate longterm broad benefit with minimal energy expended.
9. ADDRESSING COGNITIVE LIMITATIONS. We didn’t evolve to individually comprehend the world we now live in. We are beset by neurological limits, psychological biases and habits, situational and informational complexity, challenges of scale and visibility, dysfunctional cultural narratives, beliefs and assumptions, overwhelming stimuli, endless distractions, special interest manipulations, misinformation and more. Many means are available to help us collectively embrace fuller realities than we can grasp individually, including mediated spaces for full-spectrum learning and generative interactions, media literacy, psychological and spiritual practices, scientific inquiry, partnerships with artificial intelligence and nature’s intelligence, wholesome narratives, practices that examine beliefs and assumptions, and more, including all the other wisdom sources noted herein.
10. THE ENERGY OF POSITIVE POSSIBILITY. Within any group, community, or situation we’ll find suppressed longings, latent creative energies, and invisible resources. Releasing, inspiring and/or engaging such hidden assets and positive possibilities can help us cover a lot of ground and tap the power of people’s aspirations and desires to contribute. This often involves encouraging and facilitating people who care the most – many of whom live on the margins as well as at the center – to self-organize in healthy ways in an atmosphere of participation and collaboration, guided by powerful questions. Often eliciting crowdsourced ideas, energies and resources make previous impossibilities suddenly possible. This may seem most applicable for getting things done – and it is – but it also is a source of collective intelligence for grasping a bigger picture, both of what is and what could be.
11. PERSONAL AUTHENTICITY AND WISDOM – Getting in touch with who we are at deeper levels – individually and together – reveals much of what we need to know to live wisely in the world. We can be aware of and share the stories that guide us, our deep feelings and needs, the assumptions and lenses through which we view the world, our experience of life, and our accumulated knowledge. These individual aspects, shared well, add up to greater collective wisdom, revealing both unique gifts and broad common ground which can inspire our compassion, understanding, mutual aid and collaborative problem-solving. It is remarkable how our individual wisdom – and we all have it – can – if it is well shared and mutual – be a big part of how we can be wiser together than we are individually.
12. CONSCIOUS LEARNING AND FLEXIBILITY. The most important gift that intelligence has to offer wisdom is the capacity to learn from experience and adapt – and wisdom, being humble, takes that seriously. We need to attend to how our ideas and actions play out in the complexity of the real world, and to revise what we know and do in light of that. Since we can’t ever adequately consider everything that needs to be taken into account, we need ongoing feedback and iteration and reflection to continually adjust. We can consciously pursue obviously dependable sources of wisdom (like those above) and avoid obvious sources of foolishness (like abusive self-interest and arrogant ignorance and lies) while establishing ongoing collective reflective activities that honestly review and correct our forward motion. Along with such learning, the humble prudence of wisdom suggests that in our solutions we makes sure each function will be done by multiple agents and in multiple ways, not only so they can work together but so that if we lose one, we still have the others. Wisdom is an ongoing dance with the world…
13. ATTENTION TO POWER DYNAMICS. Dysfunctional power dynamics – current and historic, interpersonal and institutional, internal and external, obvious and subtle – can undermine any or all of the sources of wisdom described in this essay. On the other hand, healthy power dynamics can enable and increase the richness of any or all of the sources of wisdom described here. We can explore the difference between dysfunctional and healthy power dynamics by asking What is power of, by and for the whole? Furthermore, understanding and accessing multiple sources and modes of power together can generate the capacities needed to carry realized wisdom into actuality.