The beginning of wisdom is silence. The second step is listening…

The beginning of wisdom is silence. The second step is listening…Solomon Ibn Gabirol

Are you ready? Do you know enough to answer all the questions from a room full of grade-school kids?

Do you know it well enough to answer all the questions from a class of grade-school kids?

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.

From: Twitter, @proverbs4you
confirmed at : halfway thru the section
Photo by bonnie-brown

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2 Responses to The beginning of wisdom is silence. The second step is listening…

  1. scwittan 27 March 2014 at 5:21 pm #

    Awesome quote, but I think what it means is that the path is specific, not that it’s simple. This is my initial interpretation: (of the quote, not the post. I didn’t read the post past the “path is simple” line. I will, but I wanted to record my first impression.)

    Silence: This is about “”opening your mind”: stop telling yourself what you think you know but don’t. Introspection.

    Listening: This is about perception. “Listen” to all your senses; collect evidence,

    Remembering: Recall your intuitions. Analyze the evidence, consider its meaning.

    Practicing: Implement and test your theoretical “wisdom”.

    Teaching: Pass it on. If it survives, it will be absorbed as wisdom.

    But I’m a programmer, not a philosopher, so what do I know? 🙂

    • philosiblog 28 March 2014 at 5:12 am #

      I am also a programmer, and I find them to be particularly sharp of mind, and also kind of opinionated. Not that either are a bad thing. 8)

      As for your interpretation, that is the whole point of having open comments. I don’t claim to be the fountain of all knowledge and wisdom. Most of these quotes could be applied in several different ways. I only pick one. You have selected a different one. Baring anything terminally stupid, I consider all, even the quirkiest of them, to be valid in the proper circumstances or situations.

      And for the record, I think that interpretation of the quote is quite well thought out and valid. The more people put ideas out, the more likely we are to be able, as a group, provide something useful to a future reader. And that is the true reason for the blog. To allow people to contribute and expand on these quotes.

      Thanks for stopping by, and for the insightful comment. I hope to hear from you again. And I hope you finished reading the post. 8)

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