The beginning of wisdom is silence. The second step is listening… – Solomon Ibn Gabirol
What does that mean?
Sadly, this quote is far too long to fit neatly in a single tweet, and so it has been shortened, and brutally at that.
The longer version of the quote is: “In seeking wisdom, the first step is silence; the second, listening; the third, remembering; the fourth, practicing; the fifth, teaching others.”
This quote says the path to wisdom is fairly simple. Start by shutting your mouth. Then use your ears, and actually pay attention. Continue by remembering what you heard.
The penultimate step is to practice what you have remembered. Finally, it says that you should teach others what you have practiced. Pretty simple, isn’t it? At least it is, on paper.
Why is practice important?
Of the five steps listed in the quote, the one which find is so often skipped is the one where people actually practice what they heard, or at least the parts they remembered and with which they agree. How many people have you seen or heard who have advice for you, but have never done that about which they give council?
Would you want to use a theoretical investment strategy to build your retirement funds? Or would you rather find someone who has been investing successfully for a long time, and get their advice? I would be more prepared to listen to someone who has actually practiced, refined, and performed in the field in question. How about you?
By practicing what we have heard and remembered, we can keep what works, discard what does not, and adjust it to suit our needs. In this manner, we also come to understand the more subtle aspects of what we are doing. That is the difference between having an idea, and having a proven method. One is a pleasant notion, the other is a working plan.
You wouldn’t want your house built by a bunch of people with ideas on how to use power tools, right? Would you want it designed by someone with some ideas about how do lay out rooms and how to calculate loads? I know I wouldn’t want that. I’d want people who not only listened and remembered, but who actually have practiced. Preferably quite a bit of practice.
Where can I apply this in my life?
Shutting your mouth is a great place to start. There are also plenty of posts here about listening, which also include shutting your mouth, so feel free to view them if you feel the need. The third step says to remember. There are plenty of ways to remember things, from audio/video recording through taking notes and rote memorization. Find what works for you.
That gets us to the critical part, the practicing of what you have learned. Some things are easier to practice than others. Some things are quite expensive (like skydiving). Others, like debate or fencing, require a partner for best practice. But that’s just for the best possible results. Do it sometimes, but there are other ways to practice.
There are ways to practice the expensive things inexpensively. Vertical wind tunnels are safer and more cost effective than a skydive. Research and rejoinders and rebuttals can be practiced alone. Fencing can be practiced with little more than a string and a tennis ball, or even with just a door knob. Not ideal, but it can be done.
Think about where in your life you are wise, or wish to become even more so. Have you yet mastered the art of closing your mouth, if not entirely, at least long enough to let others talk? For some, it is easier than for others. But it is something to consider, and may be an area where you could stand to improve, even if just a little bit.
What about listening? Do you actively listen, or does your mind switch to other things as soon as you stop talking? Are you processing what the other person is saying, or are you working on your rebuttal? Perhaps you’re trying to remember what else you were going to do before going to bed? Is that listening, or simply being physically present?
How well do you remember things? Have you come up with a method to help you in case you are one of those people who don’t have a exact memory? Do you take notes, record things, or just hope for the best? But even the haziest memory is quickly set right when you start to practice. Was it this way, or that? Try, and see which one works best.
We’ve covered practice in a bit of detail already, so let’s move on to the final step of wisdom, teaching. No matter how well you think you know a subject, a student will always be able to come up with a question which causes you to have to think. Not all of them will, but some will be enough to truly help you learn that last bit.
While teaching the skill or method, not only are you driving home the lessons by repetition, but you are passing on your ability to the next generation. Not all will do as well as you, but some will do as well, or even better.
And that is my greatest wish for you, that you have a chance to teach the person who will surpass you. It truly is a great feeling.