Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Wise guy

It being the last class before Spring Break I let one of the students in "Buddhism and Modern Thought" take the class through an internet quiz. An article in the Times called "The Science of Older and Wiser" had caught her eye. We've been questioning stereotypes like "Eastern wisdom" and she was struck that its three examples of superlative, perhaps unattainable, wisdom were Buddha, Gandhi and the Dalai Lama. Various views on the nature of insight and satisfaction for those well advanced in years are described, including that of geriatric neuropsychologist Vivian Clayton, who argues that wisdom consists of "cognition, reflection and compassion," and of sociologist Monika Ardelt, who established a scale for Clayton's categories by means of 39 questions. My student was intrigued by the idea that wisdom could be defined and quantified in this way, and who doesn't like a quiz? It was a sluggish morn and almost everyone had a laptop along so I said let's try!
I did it, too, of course, and this is how I scored. We didn't compare everyone's scores, but so far as I could tell from the somewhat uncomfortable discussion everyone scored higher than I did (though nobody over 4). None of us really believes in quizzes and scales and we know all the problems with self-reporting but it was, I admit, awkward. "Well I'm certainly older," I thought to myself, and wondered if I was being penalized for more honest reactions to statements like "I am annoyed by unhappy people who just feel sorry for themselves," "There is only one right way to do anything," "It is better not to know too much about things that cannot be changed." But I've gone through it two more times now, trying to game it, and haven't done better than a 3.7. Perhaps I was misled by another definition mentioned in the article, Ursula Staudinger's five parts to "personal wisdom":

self-insight; the ability to demonstrate personal growth; self-awareness in terms of your historical era and your family history; understanding that priorities and values, including your own, are not absolute; and an awareness of life’s ambiguities. 

In any case, room for improvement! And keep learning from my students!

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