Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes


The wisdom of being wise

Posted on February 21, 2015 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated February 22, 2015 – 12:00am

That may sound redundant, but please read on.

It takes a lot of experience over a lot of time to learn a lot of things and become a certifiably wise person. I am not referring to the pursuit of scholarly or academic knowledge, although that can bring one closer to wisdom; I am talking about real down-to-earth wisdom one gains from having lived through the different stages in one’s life.

Facts help you find and identify things. Knowledge prepares you to navigate situations similar to what others have faced before. But wisdom helps you make decisions where there are no clear signs that indicate whether they are correct or wrong. All you have is the situation and the best response you can make, based on your experience, to come out alive — and wiser.

It takes wisdom to survive a strange situation, like being in a jungle or forest where there is no clear path, and one must clear one’s own track, make one’s own path to get out of there.

I do not claim to be wise. I am certainly not a sage. But I am always in search of answers to real questions and situations that have plagued humankind. Here are some of them — hypothetical but practical — that we all have faced or will face, and my own my thoughts and hypothetical answers to them. Some of these questions I have answered differently at various ages and stages of my life.

1) When should one hang on to idealism and when should one give it up for practicality?

I have faced this question many times. When I was growing up, my Ateneo and family upbringing emphasized idealism. I pretty much still believe that idealism plays a big part in holding the sky up for everyone. People will say I am idealistic, for example, because I believe that politicians should be honest.

I do. But this belief has been tempered by real life and my Zen practice. I have learned that, like fish that cannot survive in pure water, politicians who live in the trickiest environment must realize the folly of being purist and inflexible. One must learn the art of compromise and adaptability.

Politics is dealing with the practical world. And the moral and the popular are not always the best of buddies.

There will always be tension between the practical thing to do, which could be illegal or legal but not moral, and the ideal, which may not be doable in a practical world. After talking to many honest people in politics, I have learned that being practical does not mean being resigned to the ways of the world and merely accepting the way it operates. The practical can mean going for a win-win situation.

Take the matter of achieving peace. Suspending notions of moral superiority and being more open and getting off one’s high horse to talk peace with one’s sworn enemies — this can lead to a cessation of hostilities that will end a war, save lives and deliver development and services to the most vulnerable victims of armed violence.

The good people in government I’ve talked to all agree that one can survive the political jungle without being corrupt or losing one’s ideals. Sometimes, you just need to scale down what you want done into smaller tasks so that you can pursue them without having to fight a Goliath every time. Good deeds and achievements that accumulate and create more good can change the toxic default culture operating in our society.

The ideal can be achieved by accepting the real world as it is and working from there. There are ways to get things moving without having to oil the wheels of corruption. But first you must accept reality, not to be swallowed up by it, but to be able to change it: calmly, systematically, a little at a time.

2) When does one continue to fight and when does one give up and surrender?

I always believe in giving any endeavor my best efforts. I also try not to get attached to the outcome of my endeavors. And while I have goals, I concentrate more on the work I need to do. Doing my best is my concern. The outcome has to be secondary because no matter what it is, I will have to accept it and work again towards improving on it.

But when can we allow ourselves to quit?

I say there should be no quitting if what you are going for is worth the effort and has meaning to you. You may stop for a while to rest but only to fight another day.

But it may also happen that somewhere along the way, the goal itself may lose its value, relevance and attraction to you. If that happens, you just have to be honest and admit that the dream has expired. Then it is time to quit.

3) Knowing when to leave something alone.

One of my favorite songs is Billy Joel’s Leave a Tender Moment Alone, which is about allowing a “sigh” moment to just be. Don’t explain. Don’t stop. Just let things unfold as they should.

This refers to people who tend to get hold of a situation and control it, like many of us do.

One may argue that it is important to be in some level of control over one’s life. One can’t just be a leaf being blown by the wind. However, it is difficult to recognize when one should be in control and do something and when it would be better to leave things alone.

This is a problem for people who are very responsible and are have many duties. While that may be mostly good — noble, even — in truth, responsibilities, duties, callings, important as they are, can and do become attachments themselves. We all need the wisdom to determine when we must let go of them, or at least not try to control what happens and leave the pieces to fall into place by themselves.

It is the same thing when one knows the truth and feels duty-bound to reveal it, without considering the consequences. Sometimes, if you want your truth to be heard and accepted, you must walk lightly with it and not ram it down people’s throats.

Knowing if, when and how to express such truth involves the wisdom to know the right time, the appropriate occasion, and an understanding of who will receive it and how it will be received.

Clearly, wisdom is something one can grow into, like age and grace. But it does not mean that the years will automatically deliver wisdom. You still have to choose wisely as you get older.

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