One task I face almost every day: To hold onto or regain my emotional moorings. To be wise. These are stressful times, and stress can work against wisdom, so the work of wisdom-ing is sometimes tough for me.
A few years back—when I was gathering source material for my Stewardshift book—I came across a considerable amount of research about wisdom. *One author named delayed gratification as a component of wisdom, citing philosophical, sociological and neurobiological evidence. His conjecture about the basis for delayed gratification: It’s a way of thinking and acting based on “imagining one’s future self.”
In brief, the logic goes something like this: If you can imagine yourself in a preferred future—healthy, satisfied, safe, purposed, etc.—you come to value that potential self and behave in ways that will make that future possible. For example, if I can imagine—and value—an older Bob who will be healthy years from now, I will get plenty of sleep, eat carefully and exercise regularly right now. That imagination helps me to resist temptations, and justifies being patient for more than a few moments.
I need wisdom right now, so it’s probably good that I don’t have much choice but to delay most of what I want. The hard part, though, is imagining my future self. With uncertainty everywhere I look, what part of the future might guide my lifestyle choices right now?
If I turn my future-gazing past my own situation, I realize how difficult this matter might be for young adults, teenagers and children. The longer young people live inside the limited boundaries of their homes, the harder it might be for them to identify their preferred future selves. The questions that arise might be harder to answer: “Why study?” “How will I find work?” “What futures will actually be possible?” “What’s there to imagine?”
I think there’s an opportunity here for older adults. As we remember the difficulties we faced during our younger years, we might be able to be helpful. Listening, reflecting on our past, and then listening some more. We can gather words that express our faith, our feelings, our hopes. We can be examples of selfless generosity. I’m sure other ideas come to mind in your situation.
It’s pretty apparent that I’m not going to “get back to normal” at any time in the future—at least as I’ve experienced it in the past. So it makes sense that I start the imagining right now. Thinking my way into acting—accepting my future self as blessed—I can get to work preparing for what I hope will be true.
This is part of my calling right now, and it’s a good way to re-attach my spirit to the God-given certainties that still remain in the middle of what seems chaotic right now.
That seems the wise thing to do….
*Science journalist Stephen S. Hall is the author of Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience. This is one of those books that I will not forget. Yes, I recommend it!
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