Ruth Woodliff-Stanley

Education & Communication

The 17 Great Challenges of the Twenty-First Century

James Martin

Oxford University

In this article, Martin identifies 17 challenges he believes we must address to secure the future of the human race.

Note particularly the section in which Martin discusses the problem of the gap between our skill and our wisdom.

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Business & Technology

How Does J&J Credo Hold Up In A Crisis?

Tracy L. Barnett

Rice Business Wisdom

A look at the complexity and the importance of values-based business using Johnson and Johnson as a case in point.

Pay attention to the claim Barnett notes researchers make about ethics in the workplace: "a strong ethical code, practiced daily, is a critical tool for weathering crisis." And secondly, her observation that it is still common for ethics to find no real place in corporate culture.

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Spirituality & Psychology

What Is Practical Wisdom and Why Do We Need It?

Paul Jun

Motivated Mastery

A review of a book by Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe outlining the history and components of the concept of practical wisdom.

Consider Aristotle's idea that, "character and practical wisdom must be cultivated by major institutions in which we practice," and the ways the authors suggest cultivating these traits.

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Spirituality & Psychology

12 Truths I Learned from Life and Writing

Anne Lamott

TED Talks

Writer Anne Lamott offers the truths she knows for sure that she wrote down on her 61rst birthday.

Pay attention to what she says about Grace (#10 in her lessons): “Remember, grace always bats last.”

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How do we cultivate wisdom?


Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage. Matthew 2:7-8

Trickery hides in noble garb. Herod's words seemed sincere. They sounded right; they likely fooled many, drawing the fearful into Herod's plot. It took wisdom to see through them. Herod wanted anything but to pay Jesus homage; he wanted to kill him. Epiphany is the feast when we make light and truth visible for all to see. The challenges we must address now in our culture and in this world require the one thing we are rapidly losing–wisdom.

In our education and communication lesson, Martin identifies his list of the 17 greatest challenges of the 21rst century. He rounds out the list with what he names the "skill and wisdom gap." As long as our knowledge, our technological prowess, and our appetite to consume power and possessions outpace our wisdom, we will fail in the creative and adaptive tasks required to ensure the future of this earth. Wisdom, in several forms, is at the root of what will make the difference in whether we can scale the challenges Martin names, or whether we cannot.

In today's business and technology lesson, Barnett uses Johnson and Johnson as an example of a company that introduced the concept of putting the customer first, and included in that understanding the paramount importance of being trustworthy. Later, Barnett noted, their core ethical code was tested more than once by different types of crises. The crises were complex and varied in nature, as are those we meet in our lives. Researchers in the field note that the companies who best weather such crises begin with and adhere to a clear ethical code. Such practical ethics must be cultivated in "the major institutions in which we practice," according to Schwartz and Sharpe in our first pscyhology and spirituality lesson.

A wise person, Schwartz and Sharpe note, is guided by proper aims–as the wise men were guided by the star. A wise person knows how to improvise–how to take another route, as it were. A wise person can imagine the perspective of another. A wise person has experience and uses what has been gleaned from that experience well.

When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. Matthew 2:10-12

On the occasion of her 61rst birthday, writer Anne Lamott wrote down the things she is sure about in this life (in today's second psychology and spirituality lesson). In blunt terms, her words offer the kind of practical wisdom Schwartz and Sharpe say we desperately need. They comprise a code akin to what corporate culture often lacks. And at the foundation of all her wisdom, Lamott places grace. "Remember," she says, "Grace always bats last." Grace is conspicuously absent wherever trickery usurps wisdom.

What is our work in the places where wisdom has been eclipsed by trickery? To follow a singular star, despite the risks, to hold one another with perceptive hearts, to listen to the dreams within our souls–this is our work. Wisdom is the midwife of our future.