Pursuit of Practical Wisdom

“Knowledge is untapped power. Application of knowledge is the ultimate manifestation of the power of knowledge and a measure of wisdom.”

It’s been a restful weekend and one that’s been filled with great time to relax, get in touch with loved ones and ultimately get set for the week ahead. As we are bound to get into the week, we have tasks and responsibilities lined up for us which is the order of business in this adulting life. I wish I got a memo before, maybe I’d have taken more time growing up but well, the narrative was different then.

Today as part of my self guided learning at the University of YouTube I came across a series or videos by Barry Schwarz, a distinguished Psychologist and Professor of Social Theory and Social Action. The most outright one was on “Our Loss of Wisdom.” It was a prelude to what ails our society to a greater extent in the way our systems are structured and how we respond to other than engage with our environment. Referencing Aristotle, he defines practical wisdom as the combination of moral skill and moral will. There is a skill which we must have to be able to perform a particular task and this should be guided by our morality and ideals. In this case, I’ll be biased to my profession of pharmacy and broadly medical practice where training and skills are aligned to enable us provide a social good/service to our communities in the form of healthcare. This skill has a moral inclination in terms of the service expected of it to humanity. However, in order to apply this skill in discharging our mandate in serving patients there is supposed to be a willingness and inherent desire to provide care for the patients. It’s in some way attributed to empathy, kindness and compassion for the patient. This moral will goes beyond basic care to diligent and committed care for the patient with a hope for a better future for them in terms of their health. Quiet a profound mix.

Unfortunately, as Barry explains, we are at a point where we have been eroded of our inherent values to a point that the key drivers to skills acquisition and discharge are rules/guidelines and incentives. As a moral human being, we are not restrained to these two but out of lack of alternatives most people have been reduced to doing the bare minimum subscribed or provided for in law while at the same time responding to what is in it for them. To the dismay of most, as a society we are enraged when such incidences come to the public because we expect others to do better except for ourselves.

In a previous article, I wrote about investing in health workers welfare following an incident at Pumwani Hospital in Nairobi where a guard was faulted for not letting the lady access the facility in order to deliver within. The response by the authorities highlighted a couple of measures including transfer of the guard. On this account, I am of the contrary opinion and I feel it was unfair to let go of someone considering in such situations the guard most probably didn’t have the requisite enabling environment to do the right thing for the patient i.e. grant her access to the institution.

When we look at pursuit of practical wisdom it’s a measure of how to ensure individuals acquire and make use of moral skills and will. Beyond knowing the right way to do the right thing, it’s key to be enabled to do that and this comes from experience. In this blog I greatly and most often acknowledge the importance of experiences in shaping our outlook on life and using that to enlighten and empower others for a better society. It’s through this that we can have a socially responsible, morally conscious and sustainable society.

In the video clip, Barry outlines key approaches to promoting remoralizing work and ingraining practical wisdom in our circles and these include:

  • Celebrating exemplars
  • Modeling and practicing the ideals of what we desire in our societies
  • Creating structures and organizations that enable individuals to do use their skills to do the right thing because it’s the right thing.

These reminded me of a previous zoom session we hosted during the International Youth Week 2020 on Youth Empowerment and when the subject of morality and ethics came up, the concern was on how to train young people on the value of ethics. It’s outright, model it in your life, exemplify it and let’s all embrace the same as a society so that young people have role models to look up to and aspire to be like. Once they do, provide platforms where they are encouraged to think and apply their ingenuity in solving problems with a sense of morality and humanity.

I believe it’s a great disservice to be enabled and be denied the ability to exercise and put to great use such a skillset with pride and dignity. As we venture into a new week, may we commit to pursue practical wisdom by paying attention to what we do, how we do it and most importantly, to the structure of the organizations within which we work so as to make sure it enables us and other people to develop wisdom other than having it suppressed.

In conclusion: A wise person knows when and how to make “the exception to every rule.” A wise person knows how to use these moral skills in pursuit of the right aims.

“God gave you a brain to think, soul to feel and body to act. Make them useful for as much as you can for the betterment of humanity.”

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