At the age of seven I was told the story of the wisdom of King Solomon, and how he identified the true mother of a baby, when two women had both claimed to be such. He said he would solve their problem by cutting the baby in two and giving them half each, at which point one of the women fell to her knees and begged him to give the child to the other woman. In one simple, insightful statement, he navigated to the love and protective instinct of motherhood. On hearing this, I felt an immediate explosion of light around my head - true illumination. And I understood that wisdom is a most previous and powerful resource for solving problems and improving our lives. But, over the course of the next four decades, I have seen too little wisdom in the cultures I have had access to. And now more than ever, it is vital that we value and develop it.
In this extraordinary year of 2020, so many crises of our own making are coming to a head. Adding to the mounting climate emergency, we have a pandemic, boiling racial tensions, and the beginning of the greatest depression the world has ever seen. We could add many other problems to the list, but this is more than enough to deal with. My response has been to assemble a group of extraordinary people to help me navigate to the heart of wisdom, and put together a book which can help anyone identify and cultivate their own wisdom. It is a simple truth that the more of us who do this, the better our lives will be.
I say this with all confidence, because wisdom, in this study, is not seen as simply a way to enrich ourselves, or to outdo others. It is not a matter of being smarter than others, or older. It is about living with an open heart and mind, and cultivating a way of being which is fundamentally benevolent. The image I chose for the cover is a photo I took while on a horse riding trip in Mongolia. It speaks to me of the heart of wisdom. It is open, kind, noble and genuine. Her energy was warm and welcoming, and her life was lived within the rhythms of her world. For centuries their way of life on the steppe has endured, because it works with nature, not against it. The background is a photo of the front of one of their cupboards. It is simple artwork, yet it conveys to me both solidity and fluidity, form and formlessness, masculine and feminine. That balance of qualities and energies seems to hold some central truth about the nature of reality, and how we may either stand strong or flow in life.
This book may well be the most personally meaningful I ever produce, as it goes back to a formative experience, and one of the first moments I felt like I understood the nature and purpose of existence. Setting up the project was both a challenge and a pleasure. My background in sustainability gave me access to the kinds of people who demonstrate great wisdom in their work. And through friendships and inspired enquiries, I found my way to many other people who I felt could add important dimensions to the study. The questions were designed to help us define wisdom through personal experience, understand how it can be developed, and tune into its multidimensional benefits. Wisdom is ultimately about receptivity and reciprocity, about reflection and appropriate reaction. It becomes absolutely clear in one moment, then evaporates. It has a mystical quality that fascinates and occasionally frustrates. But its essence is to be found in love. For me, by the end of this study, I found them to be virtually interchangeable in some respects.
The 25 contributors are: Failautusi Avegalio Jr., Isabelle Axelsson, David Bailey, Lyn Buchanan, Rachel Corby, Jane Davidson, David Eby, Michel Ferrari, Herbert Girardet, Randy Hayes, David Krieger, Satish Kumar, Kim Langbecker, Reuben Langdon, Frances Moore Lappe, Francesc Miralles, Juan Pablo Orrego, Tiffany Patterson, Elisabet Sahtouris, Mollie Semple, Vandana Shiva, Sulak Sivaraksa, Wendy Stephenson, Julie Taylor and Mike Wallis. They have more than 1,500 years of collective life experience, across three generations. They represent a wide range of professional backgrounds, including education, governance, the military, science, industry, the arts, journalism, activism and nonprofit, religion and spirituality. Between them they have traveled to most of the countries of the world. They come from 11 nations, on five continents, and speak at least 10 languages. They have produced around 200 books, which have sold millions of copies. Their careers have benefited countless people. I feel incredibly grateful to have brought them together for this project, and it has been a hugely life-affirming experience. I believe we have collectively moved toward a solid sense of wisdom, and its shared benefit, now and always. My greatest wish is that this book will help the reader recognize, cultivate and share their own wisdom.