The sage does not accumulate for himself.
The more he uses for others, the more he has for himself.
The more he gives to others, the more he possesses of his own.
The way of heaven is to benefit others and not to injure.
The way of the sage is to act but not to compete.
(Lao-Tzu)

FEW OF US SEE OURSELVES AS SAGES, I’M QUITE SURE. Yet sagacity is a trait we dare not ignore. A close synonym of wisdom, sagacity is “the quality of being discerning, sound in judgment, and farsighted” (American Heritage Dictionary). How can we not see things like these as good? We can’t live quality lives without them, can we?

But how might we distinguish “sagacity” from “wisdom”? Wisdom is the more general term, and sagacity denotes a particular kind of wisdom. The word itself comes from the Latin noun sagacitas (“quickness or keenness of perception”). So sagacity is the kind of wisdom that sees the difference between wise and foolish conduct even when that difference is very subtle. Based on its discernment, then, it is able to exercise sound judgment and make good decisions.

Notice that sagacity (like wisdom itself) is more than knowledge. “Knowing what is right does not make a man sagacious” (Aristotle). We cannot be sagacious without accurate information to work with, but having the knowledge, we also need the good sense to apply it well.

I would also suggest that sagacity is a more mature kind of wisdom. And when I think of mature wisdom, I think of grandparents! Sometimes I wonder if most of the world’s problems wouldn’t be solved if we’d just listen to the sages in our own families: Grandpa & Grandma.

Experience is what teaches us wisdom and sagacity, of course. The experience does not have to be our own, since we can learn from the experiences of other people. But unfortunately, most of us have to learn the hard way: by our own mistakes. And that is why hardships and painful situations (many of them created by our own lack of wisdom) should not be despised. If those circumstances are the ones that teach us better discernment and judgment, then let us learn all we can from them. It’s in the arena of action that we learn how to be better people.

“The sages do not consider that making no mistakes is a blessing. They believe, rather, that the great virtue of man lies in his ability to correct his mistakes and continually to make a new man of himself” (Wang Yang-Ming).

Gary Henry – WordPoints.com

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