Ok, so I got the jitters about having a blog titled Suburban Philosophy without being suitably qualified, and not really having had much exposure to ‘philosophy’ outside of reading a handful of books. So, when I saw an ad in the paper for a 10 week night class titled – Introduction to Philosophy: applying philosophy in a practical everyday way, I thought……..perfect!
I went along hoping like mad that it wasn’t too high brow for this mere suburban philosopher. I’m glad to report that it wasn’t – woo hoo! The lecturer had me at ease with the opening quote: the fruits of an armchair philosopher stay in the armchair.
The main aim of this session was to examine wisdom, and consider whether wisdom is learned, or is it innate? What do you think?
We started with the etymology of the word philosophy being a Greek word combining: Philo & Sophia = the love of wisdom.
We then discussed what we thought wisdom was, putting together a list of attributes we would tend to associate with a wise person eg) mature age, calm, measured, unemotional, rational, logical, balanced, pragmatic, self-aware, serene etc…
The night passed very pleasantly and before I knew it we were wrapping up. Before we left, we were allocated some homework for the week which was pretty simple (thank goodness). All we had to do when presented with an issue, dilemma or general question was to ask ourselves:
The purpose being to see if our response to the situation would be different i.e. could we act / react more wisely if we just stopped to consider this question.
So, what did I learn?…….
The very next day I dropped the kids off at childcare and school and arrived at the train station. As is standard, I tried to position myself on the platform so that I was right outside a door when the train arrived, thus increasing my chances of getting a seat (surely a wise action?).
The train arrived and I was in prime position (yes!), and when I got on I was able to grab a seat in between 2 people (hurrah!).
However, it wasn’t until I sat down that I realised that I was a bit squished due to the people on either side being slightly larger than the seats they occupied. I went from elation to feeling Debbie Downer aka shitty. I was quite deflated, but sadly not by enough to sufficiently reduce the feeling of squishedness (lol…). It was in this mindset of harumph that I paused, and thought wait a minute!, what would a wise person do?
I quickly realised that wise person would probably say that I had a choice, and I could choose to stand instead. The outcome – I chose to remain seated, no longer felt shitty about it, and maybe even felt a tiny bit grateful.
As soon as I got off the train, I had another opportunity to put my homework into action. I was leaving the train station and heading towards work when someone rushed passed me and gave me a bit of a bump in the side, and they kept on walking. I immediately went into another harumph mindset and had thoughts along the lines of ‘bloody hell’, ‘how rude’ etc… But then I stopped, and again thought what would a wise person do?
The answer came almost immediately, and the answer was that the person had more than likely bumped me completely unintentionally, and that they had maybe been in such a rush that they didn’t even notice. Guess what? I instantly felt better.
Beyond these minor inconveniences, I had a pretty good week, and really don’t recall there being other harumph moments or tricky dilemmas to consider. However, I do think that if there had been, that stopping to consider the thoughts or actions of a wise person would definitely have helped.
I wonder if you might undertake the same exercise and see if it changes your reaction or behaviour to events that arise in your week. I think it might ; )
P.S. It is now nearly 9 months since I wrote this article and I have been in countless situations where I have consciously considered this question (from small everyday things, to much more challenging scenarios). I have absolutely no doubt that my thoughts / feelings / actions were improved as a consequence, and I do believe that there’s a little old wise person inside all of us, and we just need to ask them what to do.
In closing, I would like to leave you with the following: Let no one be slow to seek wisdom when he is young, nor weary in the search of it when he has grown old. For no age is too early or too late for the benefits of philosophy (letter to Menoeceus by Epicurus).