Monday, May 23, 2011

a word to the wise

Complete the sentence "When I am wise, I..."

What do you come up with? It's an interesting twist on the question of what makes up wisdom. This month, as I've been looking at wisdom, I've discovered there are times that I'm wise, and times I'm more of a wise-ass. The difference involves self-awareness, temperance, and pacing.

So, When I am wise, I:

-- have respect for myself.
This includes setting boundaries, acting in such a way as to have no regrets, and doing for myself what I want others to do. This means not playing the victim or waiting for someone to rescue me.

-- am deliberate, but not overwrought.
I focus on the actions I decide to take, but don't obsess over them. I am clear in my thinking, grounded in my sense of self, and slow down a bit. Often my first instincts are wise, but for me the wiser path is to look at them a little bit first.

-- am loving.
I had the opportunity recently to celebrate the birthday of someone I care about deeply. And while our friendship has been rocky and gone through the wringer a couple of times in the last year, I decided it was important (for both of us) to just show up and love him. Not Gone With the Wind or Wuthering Heights love, but open-hearted, soul-filling love. I set boundaries, was deliberate, and just opened my heart. It was one of the most beautiful days ever.

So what's it like when you are wise?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

What is Wisdom?

So May's theme is wisdom, and the tricky part for me about this month is where to start. How on earth do I describe wisdom? It's one of those know-it-when-I-see-it-(or-experience-it) things. I started out thinking it was knowledge and experience, but it's more than that. There's a depth to the knowledge and experience, and a peace to it, too, that makes wisdom the valuable quality it is.

The dictionary defines wisdom as "knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action." I like that because it combines a way of knowing with a way of being. It tells me that a wise person doesn't just sit up on a mountaintop thinking wise thoughts. She makes wise decisions and lives through wise actions.

I'm taking a philosophy class at the School of Practical Philosophy, which I highly recommend, and we're studying happiness. One of the keys to happiness, the curriculum argues, is wisdom.

So this week in class we talked about the Platonic Virtues, those qualities Plato said are essential to any society's happiness and prosperity. He breaks them down into "divine" virtues and "human" virtues and says that if you go after the divine ones, you'll get the human ones as part of the bargain. However, if you go only for the human ones (without the divine ones), you won't get any of them. (Bummer, right?)

The divine virtues are Wisdom, Temperance, Justice, and Courage. The human virtues are Health, Beauty, Strength, and Wealth. And I can see his point. If we go for beauty with no thought for wisdom or temperance, we'll end up with tv shows like The Swan or little girls who get forced into beauty pageants too young. If we go for strength without wisdom, we get, well, Arnold Schwartzenegger. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

Having completed a month on risk, I feel I'm a step ahead in the wisdom category, as I'm already well practiced with courage. And courage is a huge part of wisdom -- being courageous enough to take "right action."

All of this is well and good, but what am I actually DOING to practice wisdom? I'm trying to live fully in the moment and make decisions I won't regret. Sometimes they take a lot more effort than I want to expend at the time, but so far it's really felt worth it. Because if I can live a whole month with no regrets... what a month!

Join me next Sunday, May 22nd at 4pm for a discussion on wisdom! Just call 712.775.7100 and use the participant passcode of 500681# to join.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

So, what did you risk, Kate?

The month of Risk is over, and what a great month it was! Here are a smattering of the risks I took, and why they were risky:

1. Setting clear boundaries with a date -- eek! he might not like me!
2. Going to an OA meeting -- yikes! I might have food issues!
3. Starting a friendship with someone I previously had a crush on -- oh no! I might get hurt!
4. Cutting off all my hair -- ack! I might look so stupid that nobody would ever ask me out again!

Needless to say, one of the things I learned about risk is that it is incredibly personal. What's risky for me could be a walk in the park for you, and vice versa. Also, what's risky for me at this point in my life could, at some other point, have been no great shakes.

Enter my mom.

When I asked her about risk, my mom told me about the risks she took when she moved to New York in the 60's. She had a degree in journalism from Northwestern University and moved to the city completely alone looking for a job writing advertising. (Can you say "Mad Men"?) And, unbeknownst to my mother, the way a woman got a job as a writer in those days was to take a job as a secretary and then get promoted to a writer's position. But my mom a) didn't know that, and b) didn't want to be a secretary. So when she was offered a couple of secretarial positions, she turned them down flat. She was, finally, offered a writing position at an agency, but not before going through several interviews. Had she known at the time what was "expected," she told me, she never would have done anything quite so risky. But what I love about it is how courageous and forthright she was. She wanted what she wanted and went after it the only way she knew how. Risk or no risk.

Another friend told me that "risk is risk the way gravity is gravity, but you may not feel it until you experience the effects." And I'll be honest -- the effects ranged from "meh" to "aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahimgonnadieijustknowit!" But there was a consistent dedication I felt in pursuing all my risks; I was doing it for the greater good of the Kate. And that made facing down the fear all the more bearable.

It was an exciting and mind-bending month; I HIGHLY recommend an experiment like this one!