Soon after I first met Socrates, I walked into the station one night and found him pumping gas. He nodded to me, tossed me a squeegee, and pointed to the windshield. But I was more interested in asking questions than in washing windows. He had said something to me the previous night about how I had a lot of knowledge but little wisdom. Still put off by his comment, flipping the squeegee in the air and catching it again, I asked, “So, what’s the difference between knowledge and wisdom?”
He paused, then spoke slowly, as if talking to someone for whom English was a second language. “You know how to clean a windshield.”
“So?” I said, again tossing the squeegee.
“Wisdom is doing it.”
I read this little story in Dan Millman’s No Ordinary Moments. This world is full of knowledgeable people but it’s the wise ones who get anywhere worthwhile in life. Wisdom is an essential ingredient in realizing your goals. And when I use the term wisdom, I certainly don’t mean it in the traditional sense where it might be the opposite of foolishness. At any rate, a foolish person is not someone who doesn’t know but the one who knows and still doesn’t do.
Have you ever wondered what it takes to develop wisdom in life? Other than reflecting on the definition given by the medium of Socrates above, there’s just one thing you need to do. No, it’s not about having a passion (that certainly helps, however) and it’s not about having the right resources (though, you will need them at some point in time), it’s something much easier, it’s something that’s entirely in your hands.
W H Murray cites Goethe in The Scottish Himalayan Expedition:
The moment one definitely commits oneself,
then Providence moves, too.
All sorts of things occur to help one
that would otherwise never have occurred.
A whole stream of events;
all manner of unforeseen incidents
and chance meetings and material assistance come forth
which no one could have dreamt would appear.
I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:
“Whatever you think you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius and power and magic in it.” 1
No prizes for guessing that the quality I am talking about is “commitment”. Commitment is how two people make a relationship work. Commitment is how an entrepreneur makes her dream come true. Commitment is what makes you think outside the box, it is how you find your passion. Without this fundamental attribute, even learning is not possible, let alone success or mastery. When a sadhak gets up every morning and does his sadhana, that’s commitment. When you go on to keep your resolutions, when an athlete or a budding musician routinely puts in 8-10 hrs every day, that’s commitment.
And, you know what’s fundamental to staying committed? Forget passion and all that. It’s just not being lazy. Commitment comes from not listening to the mind or people that discourage you from walking the road that leads to your goal. If you are committed, intelligence, wisdom, success, and fulfillment will walk into your life as the alpha male lion saunters into its pride. You want to own your life, you have to be committed to something.
A while back I wrote (here) that if you want to pull through this life in a manner that gives you joy and peace, you’ve got to care about something. There has to be something you give a damn about. But, what if you don’t have a passion for anything in particular? You can then do the next best thing, that is, at least be committed to something. If you have pledged yourself to something, the rest will follow painlessly. Once you have made the commitment, you don’t necessarily have to like all that comes with it, you just have to keep walking. And you will do that because you have made a promise to yourself. If you don’t give up then soon you will discover that you have come a long way. The thing that was difficult earlier is now a walk in the park.
And there’s something remarkable about commitment: once you have thrown yourself in, you find yourself thinking about it all the time. Your mind starts to come up with great ideas and ways to make it happen. It’s like some greater being has possessed you and you are no longer the person you used to be. Or, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A man is what he thinks about all day long.” You become a new person altogether. Besides, the most amazing thing about commitment is that it is the one thing that’s completely in your control. No one can steer you off course if you are committed.
In a certain department store, a salesman was noted for his stubbornness. So he was instructed that customers are always right and he should never argue with them. In spite of several warnings, he continued to be discourteous with customers. Ultimately, he was dismissed from service.
A few months later the sales manager of the store spotted him in a police uniform.
“I see you have joined the police force!” he said.
“Yes sir,” said the man. “On this job the customer is always wrong.” 2
If you don’t know what you are passionate about, or if you don’t know what you can do, then begin by reflecting on what it is that you find yourself thinking about most of the time. If the answer is still not clear then simply commit yourself to something that matches your temperament. When you work on something that sits well with you, eventually, you begin to find your meaning in it. That endeavor becomes your reason to get out of bed every morning.
As they say, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” 3
So, my friend, what are you committed to? What do you find yourself thinking about all day long? What is your why? You know? Yes? Good. Now, keep it alive in your heart. Never let anyone take your why away from you. It belongs to you, it is yours. Your why gives meaning to your existence. Indeed, your why is you.
(Oh, and btw, the video in this post is an aerial view shot of Athens. This is the place where Socrates spent his entire life. If there was just one person you read who had the most lasting influence on Western philosophy, let it be Socrates.)
P.S. Live schedule and recordings are here.
|↟1||Even though I have cited W H Murray here, I first read this passage in the same book by Dan Millman that I quoted right in the first paragraph. The words of this passage appear a bit differently in the original writing of W H Murray. Here’s the original quote by Goethe:|
Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves, too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.
|↟2||Quoted nearly verbatim from The World’s Best Thought Provoking Jokes by Dr. G. Francis Xavier.|
|↟3||The exact words by Friedrich Nietzsche in Twilight of the Idols are “If we have our own why in life, we shall get along with almost any how.” The famous expression “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how” was first quoted by Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning. It’s a beautiful book and if you haven’t read it then I encourage you to do it. I cited this book in my post (here) nearly 5 years ago.|