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Knowledge and Wisdom

Chapter V


We can look at how much knowledge and wisdom are part of our lives. Knowledge can be imparted at will. Wisdom however, is a personal experience and in some cases, is non-communicable. Dr. Martin Luther King defined education as knowledge, plus character. Perhaps wisdom is just that: knowledge and character lived in an authentic fashion by the individual.

Part of wisdom is making a clear distinction between our desires/wants, abilities and needs. It is based on evaluating properly these three values so that we can then make decisions which are both realistic and meaningful to us.

Our accommodating of, or sometimes our pitting against each other, the reptilian part of our brain with the evolved part of our brain, in terms of desires, abilities and needs, is an arduous and often daily process, from which we try to choose what’s most important to us. In an ideal world, we would find a win-win compromise, between our ego (reptilian) and our solution-based (evolved) brain’s desires, abilities and needs. Sometimes, however, it’s a choice between the two opposites, in the clearest win-lose fashion.

Within the native tribes of the United States circulates a Cherokee anecdote in this regard. A grandpa tells his grandson the following story: “In each of us there is a vicious battle between a predatory wolf which wants our demise and a protective wolf  which wants us to be protected. The battle goes on day and night.” The grandson asks his grandpa: “Which one of the two wolves wins the battle, grandpa?” To which, the elder responds: “The one we feed the most” ( Legends/ TwoWolves-Cherokee.html)

Abraham Maslow came with the Pyramid of Needs Model, stating that the primal needs (reptilian) would have to be met before acceding to more elevated motivations (Abraham Maslow, “A Theory of Human Motivation" in Psychological Review, 1943). Maslow proposed five different kinds of human needs, beginning with the most basic ones: survival. Physiological and physical needs such as food and shelter are followed by the needs related to safety. Next, there are needs of love and belonging. Forth, are the needs related to self-esteem, such as being respected. The final need in the hierarchy is the need for self-actualization (fulfilling one’s potential).

The problem with this hierarchy is that in actuality, different needs have different meanings (and therefore, different levels of importance) in people. Not surprisingly, the history books and contemporary times are full with cases of idealists who willingly bypassed and/or ignored all their needs for survival, safety and material wealth, in order to sacrifice their freedom, status, wealth and lives, for the sake of their nation, religion, their own families, or for various social ideologies.

Maslow’s and in general, the behaviorists’ insistence on individuals having to fulfill their safety and survival needs prior to moving on to higher causes has been used for many years for commercial and political purposes, via the A.B.C. Model or Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence.

According to this model, all human beings, when confronted with a certain antecedent, will react with the same kind of behavior, which in turn, will lead to the same consequence.

For example, if I get bumped in the subway, I shall definitely start a fight, which in turn will lead to bodily injury and Police contact. Yet, for some people, being bumped in the subway can be a minor aggravation, leading to no aggressive behavior at all. Therefore, without a violent behavior, there are no consequences of bodily injury and/or. Even in the case of people who had the tendency of having acted out violently in such circumstances, a change in perceptions and priorities, may lead them to shrug the bump off and move on without retaliation, or even paying it any mind.

Every day, we are given the possibility to progress, stagnate, or regress, at the thinking, feeling, talking/acting levels. Which ones of these roads we’ll take, depends on our own perception of what is important in our lives.

We find what’s important logically, based on the focusing on the consequences of our behaviors. In conflict resolution counseling, there is a distinction being made between the positions and the needs of a conflict.

For example, if two boys are fighting over the same orange, each asking for the whole piece of fruit, this is considered being their position. The average adult will try to resolve the matter by addressing this position and will slice the orange in half and give one half to each of them. Yet, this will make them equally miserable and thus, it will be a lose-lose outcome. 

However, if we take the time to ask them why do they want the whole orange, one might say that he wants the peel to take to grandma so that she can make orange peel cookies; the other one might state that he wants the fruit, so that he can eat it. Now we realize that the peel and respectively the fruit of the orange are the needs of the boys. By then giving one boy the whole peel and to the other one the whole fruit, we address the boys’ needs fully and therefore, we’ll make them equally happy in a win-win outcome.

Sometimes, the position may be the same as the need. For example, if the wife asks the doting husband, in which pair of shoes does she look better, when she wears a certain dress, she may actually be interested in his feed-back on color coordination, which makes her position the same as her need. However, if she asks the husband the same question because she needs affection, the husband better say that she looks splendid regardless of which shoes she would be wearing.

When we talk about peace of mind or good health or a good relationship, we talk about a steady balance in our lives or homeostasis. Homeostasis (homio-stasis in Greek), means of “the same state.” We can talk about a ‘dead’ balance such as a straight horizontal line, which designates material steadiness. This is what is called in medical terms a “flat line”. However, homeostasis for living beings is about fluctuation.

Fluctuation means energy, passion and life, while the flat line means indifference and death. What gives homeostasis one meaning over the other is our connection to the source of our lives, the energy which is part of our human being-ness. The closer we can be to our cognitive energy, which we call thoughts and feelings, the more our homeostasis will show a balanced and smooth fluctuation. In the old times, an individual well versed with his and others’ sources of energy was in fact a ‘man of source’ or sorcerer.

It might help us to discuss and understand the interconnectedness between our own source of energy and the universe’s. When it comes to our electro-magnetic field, we use words like inspiration, aspiration and expiration. These terms talk about the same form of energy, i.e. the spire, or the life-giving spiral shape. In the material form, we see the same spiral in the shapes of the DNA helix, the fingerprints and the tap water going into the sink, hurricanes, tornadoes, all the way to the Milky Way galaxy. In the symbolic form, we can see it in the shape of the musical key for the arts and for the exact sciences, we can see it spiraling in the form of the Caduceus (the traditional symbol of Hermes featuring two snakes winding around an often winged staff, used as a symbol of medicine, or to designate pharmacies). So our spire, spiral, spirit is about life, the shape of life, healing and the power of creation.

The ‘spiraling up or down’ of an individual is based on four levels: pre-contemplation (when I’m not considering any action); contemplation (when I’m visualizing it); preparation (when I’m taking the preliminary steps to reach a goal); and action (the behavior materializing the change). Depending on the frequency of this action a fifth level may occur, called maintenance (continuing the new path of thinking, feeling and acting a certain way).

There has been an ongoing debate between behaviorist therapists and cognitive therapists as to what is the best course of action for people who are seeking a change for what is better in their lives. Is it to modify their behavior and expect that the thought patterns will follow suit? Or is it that by changing their thought patterns (beliefs and/or perceptions) a changed behavior will follow suit?

Austrian-born Victor Frankl, a Nazi prisons’ survivor and the founder of Logotherapy, or therapy based on meaningful words, believes that what’s important to us will dictate in the end our perceptions, emotions, words and actions. Whether that ‘meaningfulness’ is derived from the reptilian or the evolved parts of the brain and involves a conflictual and vengeful existence or a peaceful and grateful one, depends entirely on our paradigms, as being acceptable by us and/or by the people, the places, the activities and the time in which we live (Frankl, Viktor E.: Man's Search for Meaning, Beacon Press, Boston, 1963-2007).


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