How to Test the Wisdom of a Person

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Wisdom is often associated with the accumulation of knowledge through intelligence and experience, but wisdom and knowledge are separate distinctions. Whether you're a counselor trying to assess a patient's capabilities or just curious about the kind of person you or those around you have become, you can test a person's wisdom by analyzing their responses to a variety of questions. Just don't be too sure of your results: According to Buddha, "It is unwise to be too sure of one's own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err."

  • Understand the full spectrum of characteristics associated with the term wisdom. According to University of Florida sociology professor Monika Ardelt, being wise is defined as the development of an ego that exhibits selflessness and empathy rather than self-interest. Wisdom also implies good judgment, the ability to communicate effectively with others, and being well-rounded and experienced.

  • Administer Ardelt's Wisdom Scorecard to determine the general range of your subject's wisdom. The quiz poses 39 statements to which respondents will choose their reaction, from "Strongly Agree" to Strongly Disagree." Some of the statements include: "I am annoyed by unhappy people who just feel sorry for themselves"; "Life is basically the same most of the time"; and "There is only one right way to do anything."

  • Learn about some historical criteria for gauging a person's wisdom. According to Carroll College philosophy professor William Smillie, Greek philosopher Plato, student of Socrates and teacher of Aristotle, divided the field of wisdom into three parts: experience, or "leaving the cave"; virtue through a carefully monitored moral order; and the quality of self-revision through the understanding of what you don't know. As written by Socrates, reprinted by Carroll College, "...I do not think I know what I do not know."

  • Examine the subject's level of experience in life, including past work, residences, education and family, and how that person responded to these experiences. According to the Platonic model, the ability to learn from positive and negative experience is the key to enlightenment--truly living and learning, rather than merely ingesting knowledge from a book in isolation.

  • Ask questions of the person to determine some qualities of their moral character, such as empathy. Questions like " "How often do you concern yourself with the plight of others?", "When do you think it's all right to lie?" or "What does community mean to you?" can help you gauge the development of a person's virtues--an important component of wisdom.

  • Observe the subject in conversation to determine how much she knows as opposed to how much she thinks she knows. Does she qualify her statements with responsible phrases like, "Though the jury's still out..." or "Hey, this is just me, but..." or make irresponsible phrases like, "You'd be an idiot not to think that..." or even "Everybody knows that...". A key component of wisdom, according to Plato, is knowing what is left to be learned and being willing to admit that one doesn't know everything.

  • Watch how the person treats others--both acquaintances and close relations--to see if he exhibits empathetic listening, the ability to put himself in the other's shoes while communicating. This ability entails suspending the ego to fully absorb the true meaning of another person's message, a sure sign of wisdom, according Henry David Thoreau, author of "Walden": "Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other's eyes for an instant?"

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