Existential philosophies remind us: wisdom demands action, not just words

Existential philosophies remind us: wisdom demands action, not just words

Wisdom flourishes when lived, not stored

Somi DasUpdated: Saturday, August 12, 2023, 06:39 PM IST
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In our relentless pursuit of knowledge and enlightenment, we often find ourselves amassing an impressive collection of wisdom literature. The shelves of our minds are stacked with profound quotes, timeless advice, and thought-provoking insights from philosophers, thinkers, and sages of ages past. Yet, one must pause and question whether this accumulation of wisdom is truly transformative or merely an exercise in mental decoration.

It's easy to equate the gathering of wisdom with a form of intellectual accumulation, akin to collecting trivial information. Like gathering seashells on the shore, we gather wise words and phrases, attributing to them a sense of profundity. However, much like those seashells that eventually lose their lustre when kept on a shelf, the words of wisdom can lose their sheen if not integrated into our lives.

Wisdom is not meant to be static; it is a dynamic force that should shape our thoughts, decisions, and actions. As the philosopher Lao Tzu wisely stated, "Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom." Wisdom, in its essence, is not an abstract concept but a living practice. It's not enough to know the wise words of sages; we must internalize and manifest their teachings in our daily lives.

Consider the metaphor of a chef who studies countless cookbooks but never actually steps into the kitchen. No matter how much knowledge about recipes they accumulate, it won't transform them into a skilled cook. Similarly, wisdom literature might contain the recipes for a meaningful and purposeful life, but unless we roll up our sleeves and engage with life's challenges, the flavours of wisdom will remain distant and untasted.

Existential philosophers like Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, who delved into the depths of human existence, highlighted the importance of action in the face of absurdity. Sartre, in his work "Existentialism is a Humanism," emphasised the need for individuals to actively create their own essence through their choices and actions. Mere accumulation of philosophical musings without translating them into lived experiences can lead to a sense of existential emptiness.

Wisdom, when embodied, becomes a guiding force that shapes our behaviour and decisions. The ancient Stoic philosophers, including Epictetus and Seneca, recognised the significance of putting philosophy into practice. They believed that true wisdom was not just about intellectual understanding, but about virtue and self-discipline. Epictetus famously said, "It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters." This sentiment echoes the idea that wisdom is not merely about acquiring knowledge, but about using that knowledge to navigate life's challenges with resilience and grace. In a world that's increasingly obsessed with quick fixes and instant gratification, the embodiment of wisdom stands as a counterpoint. It's a reminder that true growth requires patient engagement with life's complexities. Accumulating wisdom literature might make us sound profound at social gatherings, but it won't bring about meaningful change unless we actively practice what we've learned.

In essence, the trend of accumulating wisdom literature is not unlike other passing fads. Just as fashion trends come and go, so do intellectual trends. Existential philosophy, which once captured the minds of many, might seem like a distant echo in today's fast-paced world. Yet, the essence of wisdom persists beyond trends and fashionable ideas.

As we journey through life, let us remember that wisdom is not a commodity to be hoarded, but a flame to be kindled within ourselves. The pages of wise texts hold the potential to illuminate our paths, but it's through our actions and choices that we truly embody the wisdom they offer. Let's not get lost in the pursuit of accumulation, but instead, let us engage with life, weaving the tapestry of wisdom into our being, and allowing it to guide our steps toward a more meaningful existence.

(The writer is a mental health and behavioural sciences columnist, conducts art therapy workshops and provides personality development sessions for young adults. She can be found @the_millennial_pilgrim on Instagram and Twitter)

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