The Search for Profound Wisdom

Everyone seems to be looking for profound wisdom. We read books and expect the ideas they contain to transform our lives. We throw money at gurus and await their words that will surely make us enlightened. We consult oracles and canons in hopes of gleaning something that can help us overcome whatever difficulties we face.

And yet, despite our efforts, more often than not, we come up empty handed – but not often enough to prevent us from continuing our quest. We seem to learn just enough to keep us hooked. No matter how elusive our quarry, our desire only grows stronger.

[sociallocker id=”1846″] But exactly what is it we’re trying to find? What impact do we expect this “profound wisdom” to have in our lives? And why are we so convinced we must turn to others to find it?

These are important questions and ones we must each answer for ourselves. Otherwise, we’re right back to where we started – looking to others for answers.

Given this, I won’t attempt to deprive you of seeking your own answers, but I will share a little exercise I often use to help myself and others gain a little insight into the situation. It goes like this:

Imagine you are in a fight with your spouse. It’s a knockdown, drag-out screaming match like no other. Get a sense of the rage you would be feeling. The tension in your body. The tone of your voice. The choice of your words. Now, imagine that in the middle of this fight the following thought enters your mind:

“You idiot. What are you doing? This is the person you love and you’re destroying this relationship over nothing.”

The question is, given this thought, what do you do now? Do you continue fighting or do you begin to calm down and seek a more peaceful resolution?

In all my years of posing this question I have yet to have anyone tell me they would continue fighting. Everyone agrees they would stop immediately and try to correct the damage that had already been done. But why?

When I ask them, the answer is almost always the same: given the circumstances, the thought that entered their mind was a very profound one. After all, it literally transformed them in an instant and they were left better off because of it.

This answer makes perfect sense. It is concise. It is easy to understand. And it is comforting. Unfortunately, it is nonsense. Here’s why:

Take the same situation as before. The same fight, same person, same everything. And just as before, the same “profound” thought enters your mind:

“You idiot. What are you doing? This is the person you love and you’re destroying this relationship over nothing.”

But this time, the thought enters your mind not from within, but through your ear canal and it comes out of the mouth of your mother-in-law. And, by the way, you hate your mother-in-law.

Now what do you do with this “profound” wisdom? Do you stop and apologize? Not on your life. You turn to your mother-in-law and drag her into the fight.

“You crazy old wench. You’re the reason he/she’s like this in the first place!”

Again, in posing this question to others I have yet to have anyone deny their reaction would be much different than this. So what happened to the “profound” wisdom?

The answer is obvious. The thought that entered your mind was powerful when it was your idea. The same thought was threatening when it was your mother-in-law’s idea.

The point of all this isn’t to show that we cannot learn profound information from others; the point is to show that the source of wisdom is often more important than the wisdom itself.

So the next time the ideas we learn from a book or guru fail to transform us, we shouldn’t be surprised. It isn’t the wisdom we encounter that changes us; it is the wisdom we make our own.

Originally published September 6, 2005