Pragmatic Wisdom

I listed as one of my guiding principles the phrase:

The beginning of wisdom is the realization that you may be mistaken; mistaken in your observations, your analysis, or your conclusions.

Let me explain.

A fool, who is the opposite of someone wise and is also someone lacking in practical knowledge, would assume that to accept and admit that you can make a mistake is an act of defeat, resignation, an admission of weakness, or some such notion. A fool forgets the simple ‘carpenter wisdom’ of the proverb “measure twice, cut once.” That simple proverb is a variation on the same theme as my phrase. Recognize that you could make a mistake, plan for it and anticipate it be checking your work before implementing the act.


That is what wisdom is, simple, neat, and elegant.

Wisdom is different from knowledge or being smart. Both of those is about acquisition of information. Wisdom is knowing how to be and how to act. You don’t have to have factual specific knowledge about anything and can still be wise or act wisely. Wisdom is having knowledge of how to be and act to create harmony.

I define wisdom as the striving for harmony. Trying to find harmony within oneself, with others and with the world at large.

My phrase is about recognizing a truth about us all. That we are not simple or only conscious thinking beings. We are also, and mainly, do most of our thinking unconsciously. It is there were we are shaped and led for good or ill.

Here I am back at ideas that shape us and back to the idea of bias. Those hidden influences and assumptions that can take control and guide us. Wisdom is recognizing those real influences and anticipating consciously their contributions.

The carpenter proverb is about forethought and planning. Whereas mine is indirectly concerned with the same theme. The carpenter proverb directly gives advice about how to act, whereas mine is more in line with Miguel Cervantes proverb of ‘forewarned is forearmed.’ [Cervantes, Don Quixote, Part II, Book III, Ch. 10.] It simply alerts you to be aware, be open, and be cautious and then it gives advice once you realize that the outcome of your action was not what you expected. If the outcome was not desirable then my saying gives you suggestions about what to do next.

It points towards the various steps in the cognitive process, observation, analysis, and conclusion forming, and how each step needs to be checked and consciously examined for those hidden assumptions and biases, those shaping influences that could be the culprit that lead you astray.

My phrase warns you that the ‘simple act of seeing’ is not really so simple. You see what your nature, nurture and culture trained and influenced you to see. You see according to your biases and expectations.

The way to overcome those unconscious influences shaping your observations when you revisit a mistake or you simple want to go back and check your work, is to physically do it differently. You need to understand that your unconscious assumes that it got it right the first time and will fight you in trying to check for mistakes. At least it may do this. It won’t if you have inculcated as one of those biases and shaping ideas the carpenter’s proverb or my own. Then you will have the bias of acting wisely and you will be ‘forearmed to be forewarned’.

Most of us have not been shaped by such wisdom.

Many of us have been taught the arrogance of being right.

That assumption can prevent you from seeing things as they are.

Hence my advice to physically do the checking by doing it in a manner physically different that the way you did it the first time. Go to a different place, sit in a different way, move the objects in a different way, do something, do anything differently. That will trick your unconscious into thinking that you are not doing the same thing as you just did and thus ignoring the possibility of you being wrong. It tricks your unconscious into thinking it is doing something new and different and then you get another chance to look with conscious awareness.

This all explains why it is so hard to proof read your own work immediately after you finished the task. It is as if your unconscious were saying to you, “Hey I know I’m right and I just did that, and I didn’t right so don’t waste my time.”

By physically changing the process and circumstances, you get a chance for a conscious and more effective do over.

So remember to check how you observed, how you went about analyzing and what conclusions you made, each step is shaped and influence not simply by conscious thought processes but by unconscious bias and ideas.