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The difference between a wise and foolish man.

A man wiser than me asked me what the difference was between a wise and foolish man. I started to expound at length on being objective and not rushing in, on integrating the personality and trusting your observing self. He agreed with all I said, but then, in the spirit of making a mere addition to my list, but providing really, a succinct alternative perspective, he held up his thumb and forefinger showing a tiny gap between them- “that’s the difference between a wise and foolish man”.

We imagine that the gap is much much wider. That it has to be filled with all kinds of learning and experience. That a ‘wise’ man or woman is cut from very different cloth from ourselves. None of that is helpful as a picture of where to go to get ‘more’ wisdom. Even that sentence is wrong headed. If you have a window you can’t see though you need to start removing things that are blocking the view. Instead we start piling more and more stuff in front of the window. Everything we do gets in the way of seeing clearly, but we need to do something- because we are human- and that is the paradox we have to solve all the time. It never goes away. You have to do the minimum without ‘doing the minimum’- you have to find an activity that keeps you from becoming lazy and heedless but doesn’t make you obsessive and anxious.

We live in an age in which there is no shortage of things to make you anxious. So avoid them. When you are less anxious you have enough ‘psychological time’ to be able to see clearly. Psychological time is that feeling of having lots of time rather than feeling rushed- it is a combination of time, energy and lack of anxiety. When you have enough psychological time you can develop a better sense of when to do something. It is often said that wisdom is right time, right place, right people- increase the rightness of places- the work you do or where you travel- and people- who you associate with- and you will increase the instances when correct timing is applicable. But in a sense it is all about timing. It is about being comfortable doing nothing without its cause being heedlessness or laziness. Instinctively knowing the right time to do a thing is rightly seen as a mark of superior knowledge. But the difference between being in rhythm and out of rhythm is like that tiny gap between thumb and forefinger- very small.

One reason why travelling is very useful is that your circumstances don’t control you. You can move whenever you want. This gives you the freedom to go or stay depending on your intuition. By trusting your intuition when you travel – in small ways at first and then in bigger ways – you develop a better sense of ‘good timing’. Why is humour so beloved of the wise? Because it encapsulates the importance of timing and the importance of incongruity. Get the timing wrong and a joke doesn’t work. Learn to spot incongruities and you will be funnier as a humourist; you will also develop clearer perceptions about the way the world works.

Can you teach yourself better timing? What do you think?

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