“Every one of us, unconsciously, works out a personal philosophy of life, by which we are guided, inspired, and corrected, as time goes by. It is this philosophy by which we measure our days, and by which we advertise to all about us the man or woman that we are” (George Matthew Adams).
OUR ENGLISH WORD “PHILOSOPHY” CONTAINS AN IDEA THAT EVERY PERSON SHOULD APPRECIATE. The word comes from a Greek noun which meant “lover of wisdom.” In the most basic sense, then, a philosopher is one for whom wisdom is a valuable thing. He not only appreciates it, but he exerts himself actively to grow in it.
If people react negatively when they hear the word “philosophy,” it is probably not the “love of wisdom” that they have in mind, but what we might call “professional” or “academic” philosophy. Without a doubt, many who have made a career out of philosophy have given the discipline an unsavory reputation. (Philosophy may be a field where, as someone has said, “Ninety-five percent of us give the rest of us a bad name.”) But let’s not discard the notion of wisdom itself.
Wisdom is like love and many other wonderful things: if it is not governed and disciplined, it becomes destructive. Wisdom must be properly defined. It must be bounded by valid principles (like humility and reverence), and it must be kept in balance with the other aspects of daily living. But rightly understood and carefully balanced, philosophy (the pursuit of wisdom) should be something we value greatly.
Although he was not always a good philosopher himself, Thoreau was on the right track when he wrote, “To be a philosopher is . . . so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life not only theoretically, but practically.”
You may not have thought much about it, but you have a philosophy of life. You have some concept of what life is about and how a human being ought to behave. But let me ask you: has your philosophy of life been carefully put together? If you’ve been careless or negligent, you’re probably on a road you don’t really want to go down.
“It takes but a brief time to scent the life philosophy of anyone. It is defined in the conversation, in the look of the eye, and in the general mien of the person. It has no hiding place. It is like the perfume of the flower — unseen, but known almost immediately” (George Matthew Adams).