WoW 049: On the value of being unenviable [Words of Wisdom]

People may envy someone else's social status, wealth, possessions, children, or spouse.

Curiously, while wisdom is supremely valuable, wisdom is rarely envied. There are perhaps a few reasons for this.

Wisdom is often hidden in plain sight.

Wisdom can be difficult to see because it often appears counterintuitively. Wisdom is the signal amid a cacophony of noise, and wisdom seems foolish to many people.

So while a wise person may speak very insightfully, it takes curiosity and humility to recognize wisdom. We filter what we hear and see through our own stories, through the meaning we have made from our experiences.

We may hear something wise and mistakenly think it is foolish, unsophisticated, or unreasonable.

Be careful when you don't understand someone else's perspective. Don't be too quick to judge and dismiss what is foreign to you.

Be open to what you can learn from everyone.

Do not look to social status, wealth, possessions, or family as a sign of wisdom.

The fruit of wisdom is what makes wisdom itself visible.

The fruit of wisdom is virtue.

When you see someone living with a powerful combination of virtues, you can know they are wise.

Insight and compelling communication without humility is not wisdom, and having influence and power without risk and true vulnerability is not wisdom.

(My current best thinking shows five major categories of virtues: love, courage, transcendence, knowledge, and purity. More on these and their subcategories of more than 20 virtues at another time.)

As a side note, the hiddenness of wisdom is one reason why it is good to re-read great books. As you mature, you can read the same great book and get a different perspective from the second, let alone the fourth time.

Wisdom is increased by sharing.

Sharing wisdom makes the wise wiser, as she learns when she gives away her wisdom. Teaching is a profound joy but also a great responsibility and can be a humbling and challenging process. But this process is a way to continue to grow in wisdom and learn even more from those she teaches. It is in everyone's best interest for you to share your wisdom.

Wisdom is inviting.

By the time someone becomes mature enough to be aware of another's wisdom, they have no desire to envy it. They may admire, respect, and be encouraged by another's wisdom. They may be curious how they, too, can become wise. But they do not envy it.

In part, this is because wisdom is inviting, and it calls to people seeking to grow and invites them to a more pure, peaceful, loving life.

So once someone recognizes wisdom, they also acknowledge that they, too, can become wise. Not only this, but they realize they do not and cannot take someone else's wisdom. Wisdom is expansive and infinite; it does not need to and cannot be divided to be shared.


"Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are."

Dietrich Boenhoffer, The Cost of Discipleship

"Every viewpoint is a view from a point. Unless we recognize and admit our own personal and cultural viewpoints, we will never know how to decentralize our own perspective, and we will live with a high degree of illusion and blindness that brings much suffering into the world. I think this is what Simone Weil (1909–1943) meant in saying that the love of God is the source of all truth. Only an outer and positive reference point utterly grounds the mind—or the heart, for that matter.
One of the keys to wisdom is that we must recognize our own biases, our own addictive preoccupations, and those things to which, for some reason, we refuse to pay attention. Until we see these patterns (which is early stage contemplation), we will never be able to see what we do not see. No wonder that Saint Teresa of Ávila (1515–1582) declared self-knowledge to be the first and necessary entrance way to the Interior Castle. Without such critical awareness of the small self, there is little chance that any individual will produce truly great knowing or enduring wisdom."

Richard Rohr, The Wisdom Pattern


What can you emulate in the wisest people you know?

Who can you talk to who might challenge you and help you find your blindspots?


The hiddenness of wisdom is also the path to it's treasure. Be diligent and never tire in your search.

Live wisely,


Continue reading

A woman thoughtfully holds a glowing orb.
Our newsletter

Do you hear the call of wisdom?

How you respond to the call of wisdom determines the direction of your life.

Get the Words of Wisdom email every Wednesday: brief reflections on wisdom to help you grow in the skills of virtuous living.