We seem to be wrestling with the recognition that an age is coming to an end, and that strange forms are filling the world with casual madness, behaving as though nothing hangs over, us; no piper calling for the line to the clifftop.
The word ‘wisdom’ is to be used cautiously. It is subjective. One person’s wisdom is another’s folly. And yet, looking back on a series of events, we can clearly see where something was ‘wise’. Perhaps we don’t see as clearly where something was unwise? Maybe we don’t feel good if our opinions were part of something that led downhill… we’ve all been there.
Wisdom implies a developed sense of consequence. The ‘wise’ woman or man has enough information to have formed a mental and emotional model of what happens in a given set of circumstances. They can play, with some success, the game of consequence, running events forward in their heads (and often hearts) to see what the pattern of results would be.
Emotions can run away with us. We can wilfully turn away from that small voice of learned consequence to embrace the rush of something wonderful, knowing that it has the potential for chaos, but makes us feel good at the time – especially when our lives are hard and we can see the opulence of others. To lash out is satisfying if you live in a state of constant struggle. These states can be, and are, exploited by those who can spend vast sums getting into our minds…
Information can be facts or opinion. The entire history of science has been a struggle to establish facts – repeatable, dependable… and sometimes ‘boring’ – but only because the truth is becoming complex; and black and white may be fun to as revenge, but deadly when exploited by those who know their own wealth was built on the most subtle of decisions. But facts are the basis of truth, though the finer levels of truth involve a state of mind in which there is another kind of knowledge – or perhaps ‘presence’ would be a better term.
One fact is that we live in a complex world. A world so evolved in its social and political systems that solutions to societal or economic problems are, themselves, necessarily difficult. Ascending populist politicians are keen to present themselves as ‘disruptors’. Their ‘unique’ insight into tangled and emotive situations is popular with supporters when they pronounce that something should be smashed to make way for that which is self-evidently more vital.
Like the best lies, there is some truth in that. Throughout mankind’s comparatively short history, the idea of necessary destruction has haunted us. The ancient Hindu civilisation even codified this phase of a society’s changes by allocating it a god – Shiva, partnered by Vishnu, the preserver on the opposite side of the sentiment. The two were not at war, but rather Janus-like faces of the essential processes of ‘development’.
All these things are at the heart of how mankind thinks and feels about itself at present. No-one would deny that we are living through a period of ever faster change. The sense that no-one is really driving the bus is everywhere, just as it would be in a stock market at times of market ‘peaks’ when traders know that things have gone too far, and instability is about to wreak its consequence, but the first to lose their nerve will lose face and money if their caution is premature.
We have little idea how much of our society, our world, is build on confidence. Tumbling confidence snowballs like an avalanche. The landscape looks very different when the work of the falling ice and snow is finished…
An important part of any society is the idea that there are ‘elders’ of that civilisation. Elders, in this context, can be political or specialist. Either way, they will have gained this status through being wise in what they do. We could characterise the present stage of western politics by saying that we suffer from a lack of elders – at least elders in power.
Elders in a specialist sense are those who are genuinely experts; the kind of people you would expect a parliamentary enquiry to summon to assist. Their knowledge would be wide and their wisdom greater. Their approach would be characterised by an absence of self-interest, a sense of them having glimpsed another world, one in which the act of selflessness was inherent for the greater good.
There are pressures in modern society that have resulted in us facing new challenges, some of which are severe and from which we may not recover. In the opening paragraphs, we looked at how wisdom is based upon the mixture of knowledge and experience – leading to a developed sense of consequence. The societal structures that support these in a healthy society collapse if the fundamental respect for truth is eroded. For the first time, we face a barrage of populist opinion eager to rubbish facts as ‘fake news’. The consequences of this are dire, and may take whole generations to correct.
The way we communicate has also changed. The online world has given our children limitless access to the apparent glitter of ‘celebrity’, a world where you can be famous for simply being famous. This vacuous layer of society distracts from the real and important issues into which each new generation needs to be carefully inducted – if they are to contribute to the age to come with their fresh viewpoints and, eventually, mature wisdom. The world of celebrity, like that of media, is owned by billionaires who have their own agenda for how society should develop.
I’ve written, elsewhere, about the corrosive effect of social media when it encourages people to seek out the virtual company of those of like opinion. The ‘echo-chamber’ is well documented, and is the very opposite of that which fosters wisdom; in which the open exchange of views and experience is central to societal maturity.
We face many challenges, but the human species has proved resilient in the past. Let us hope that there is still enough wisdom extant in the planet to engender a spirit of unity to face what lies ahead.
As individuals and families, we need to look to our own values and invest, selflessly, in that which is true and that which endures in that truth.
Either way, our future is going to look very different.
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.
The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.