"No man is wise enough by himself," Plautus once wrote. He could have added, no woman, either, but they may come closer, at their best.
His point is an important one. It’s amazing how often we approach life as if we have to make it all up ourselves as we go along - like no one has ever trod this path before us who might have some advice that can help us along the way. I believe that the great thinkers of the past have left us the equivalent of a huge bank account of wisdom for living, but we rarely ever draw on that account. We live in existential rags while the riches of the ages are available, waiting for us to use them.
When I was growing up, I heard a story about a poor farmer in Texas whose little ramshackle house was sitting on one of the largest oil reserves in the country, but he didn't know it for a very long time. That's another great image for our untapped resources. But our reserves of wisdom from the past represent a much more renewable form of energy. We need to access what we have, in order to power our endeavors and lives forward in the best ways.
We also too often neglect to draw on the wisdom of the people around us. I’m typically astonished at how much smarter I feel after I’ve been talking to wise people, hearing what they’ve been learning about life. We're not here to go it alone. Many of the world's greatest creative endeavors have been collaborative, drawing on the insights of others, and perhaps a variety of perspectives that can come together only through open conversations fueled by true curiosity. When we seek out wise people and really talk to them, amazing things can happen.
Is there anything perplexing you in your life or work right now? Or do you just feel like you could use a little extra wisdom as you steer through the shoals of the day? Make it a point to talk to someone whose wisdom you admire. Or perhaps give someone a chance whose wisdom you haven’t even come to suspect. Share a concern, or just bring up a topic of interest.
Or, alternatively, pick up an old book, like The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, or some essays from Seneca, or even my own summary of Marcus, Seneca, and Epictetus, The Stoic Art of Living. You may be surprised at what results.
We need each other’s insights, across town and through the ages.