What is wisdom? Does it increase with age?
According to psychologist, Paul Baltes, the belief that ‘the older a person is, the wiser is he’ may be a myth. Baltes and his colleagues conducted a number of studies which showed that wisdom rises steadily from the age of 13 to 25 and then remains relatively stable through the age of 75. Beyond 75, wisdom is likely to decline.
Another psychologist, Francesca Happe along with her colleagues, argues that young adults of average age 21 show remarkable wisdom, but the older adults of average age 73 display superior social reasoning.
Social reasoning is also part of wisdom even in the opinion of Baltes. In Baltes’ view wisdom represents a system of knowledge about the meaning and conduct of life. He and his colleagues identified the following as components of wisdom.
- Rich factual knowledge about life: The wise person is well aware of the human nature and human development, as well as social norms and social relationships. He/she knows that one’s well-being is to be interpreted with the well-being of others. A person who does not care for the welfare of others is not wise.
- Rich procedural knowledge about life: The wise person knows the strategies for making appropriate decisions, handling conflicts, giving advice to others and weighing the importance of life goals. Such strategies are not selfishly motivated; they help in improving the society.
- Understanding of lifespan contexts: This means that the wise person should understand life’s various contexts such as family, friends, work and leisure.
- Awareness of the relativism of values and priorities: Values and priorities vary from people to people, society to society. Values are not absolute. What is considered a value in one society may be anathema in another. Hence the wise man is aware of the futility of trying to impose on a group of people certain values which he/she may consider as very important.
- Ability to recognise and manage uncertainty: The wise person knows that the future cannot be fully known. He/she also knows that there are many limitations in the ways people gather and process information. The wise person can effectively deal with the uncertainties posed by the future.
Wisdom is not expertise in any particular field. A good physician, educator, administrator, scientist or any expert may not be wise at all though he/she may possess a lot of knowledge.