Hwww….That was a busy week!!! Now I am finalizing my semester-long project, entitled,
“Wisdom in Life: Searching for the Roots of Positive Human Development throughout the Life Course”
Keywords: lay wisdom, positive human development, the life course, centrality
Here is an abstract for the study:
Considering the increased importance of static happiness and wisdom realization, it is crucial to understand how positive human development is associated with personal life story and experience by using the life course and humanistic perspective. The aim of the present study was to untangle the dynamics of social relations and experiences in an effort to address how consistent or inconsistent characteristics found in life story, social support networks, wisdom nominees in person and history, and personal wisdom experiences are related differently to personal understanding of wisdom and life satisfaction and wellbeing.
A mixed method analysis adopted a nonparametric statistical method and social network analysis for a quantitative confirmation and content analysis for a qualitative specification. The nonparametric t-test indicated that the top 10 wisdom score group had a higher life satisfaction and better health status than the bottom 10 group. Moreover, it valued warmth and harmony more than individualistic attributes as most important wisdom characteristics. The content analysis and network analysis confirmed these distinctions indicating the importance of altruistic, reciprocal attributes as prerequisites for wisdom development.
This is Introduction:
Happiness and Wisdom
Modern societies like ours are getting richer, but are we getting happier and wiser? The rising affluence, which once was believed to be the principal vehicle of a happy life doesn’t seem to secure enhanced happiness (Layard, 2005);(Hall, 2010); (Rustin, 2007); (Bauman, 2008). Zygmunt Bauman (2008), who is one of the leading sociologists in post-modernism, argues that the widening gap between the level of material affluence and happiness lies to large extent in the shift of our notion of defining happiness.
As modern societies pursue monetary attainment and material consumerism, according to Bauman, the secure state of happiness has become less favored and instead “the chase of that stubbornly elusive target that can keep the runners happy” has become normative (Bauman, 2008, p. 8, emphases made in the original). As far as we haven’t lost the hope of becoming happy and thus keep pursuing it, we are secure from unhappiness. In this regard, the key to happiness is to keep the hope alive and ticking.
On the one hand, it seems to go well with capitalism and consumerism. The endless production of new and better goods appears to be so proximal and prevalent that it consistently motivates us to keep working on the pursuit of happiness in the hope that we can obtain these commodities sooner or later. Happiness seems to always exist within our reach and thus attainable. As Bauman sees it, however, there is no finishing line on that track leading to happiness. Since this pursuit of happiness is only functional on condition of an infinite succession of ‘new chances’ and ‘new beginnings,’ it could only result in misleading us to ignore what we’ve got at present and what’s the true value of it. The infinite chain of hope for new starts and opportunities can bring about slicing life into episodic pieces disregarding the fact that “acts have consequences that outlive them” (Bauman, p. 18).
Understanding that the pursuit of happiness can never end and rather life is a work of art as a process and not an event, how then we can free ourselves from modern pulse of ‘higher man’ which, according to Friedrich Nietzsche (Samuel, 2002), is an ideal recipe for a fully mastered, happy human, and instead become a beneficiary of a steady and continuous state of happiness?
Blaise Pascal once noted that “the sole cause of human unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room” (Pascal & Krailsheimer, 1968), as cited by Zygmunt Bauman, 2008). What then would be necessary to reach that state and find us flourishing therein? What’s the role of personality and life history in the positive human development?
Instead of containing ourselves in episodic efforts to search for short-term strategies and instant gratification, I propose that we need to explore answers in wisdom study by taking more procedural and life course context into consideration.
Significant Aims and Research Questions
The main aim for the study is to untangle the effects of consistent/inconsistent wisdom characteristics on wisdom development throughout the life course. More specifically, I envision to (1) illustrate relational features of wisdom characteristics found in wisdom nominee and personal wisdom definition; (2) to examine laypeople’s perception and attitude on their life story and wonder experience and its relationship with wisdom development; and (3) to investigate how the social network and historical wisdom nominee affect on the consistency of wisdom characteristics and development. For this project, I paid close attention to the first aim which was to investigate relational similarities and differences between personal wisdom exemplars and wisdom definition.
The unique gravity of my inquiry and argument can be captured in its new sociological perspective utilized not only intrapersonally, but interpersonally and cross-culturally. As I investigated in detail below, the current state of knowledge on the personality and its relations with positive human development is predominantly led by psychological studies focusing on intraindividual cognitive functions. One of the overarching assumptions and premises in psychological studies is that the external stimuli are given in a certain measurable form ready to be internalized and framed out. Acknowledging its pioneering works and leading roles in human development study, in order to have better understanding on unique and yet dynamic human character development, however, it is critical to seek out rich contextual and historical evidences which manifest the existence of inextricable, lifelong human networks and their nurturing effects on the positive human character development throughout the life course.
Taking us beyond the realm of personas to the roots and the roles of life story and social relations, my argument of the importance of “lay wisdom”, therefore, can empower the current status of wisdom and will extend our knowledge of universal prerequisites needed for cultivating and maintaining the positive human characters. I claim that we need to explore sociological roots of good human character by looking at the characteristics of social relations and their effects on the experience of wisdom portrayed in a form of personal narratives about their life stories and wisdom experiences throughout the life course.
Taking these into consideration, the research questions for the wisdom study are 1) how is wisdom understood differently among two extreme groups of wisdom scorers (e.g., top 10 vs. bottom 10)?; 2) what’s the relationship between wisdom nominee and personal wisdom definition?; 3) how and to what extent does personal life story and wonder experience interplay with wisdom nomination and personal definition?; 4) when do people think they are wise?; and 5) how is wisdom understood differently in between wisdom nominee in person and in history? For this project, I dealt with the first and second research questions which are about the comparison between two extreme groups of wisdom scorers in terms of their personal understanding of wisdom and explanation of wisdom exemplars’ characteristics.
Figure1. The conceptual model: The Effects of Social Relations with Wisdom Nominee on Wisdom Development
Research Rationale: The Importance and Timeliness of Lay Wisdom Research
Why is Wisdom Rare?
My argument in terms of these big questions begins with a challenging mind to a current notion in both academia and society on wisdom. Just like contemporary notion of the pursuit of happiness, I claim that the status of wisdom has been inflated as one of religious marvel and philosophical pinnacle. Our society asks us to pursue more knowledge and wisdom. My premise is that, just like the importance of static happiness, we have wisdom within ourselves and thus we are already capable of being wiser.
In this regard, I claim that the contemporary wisdom status should discharge its normative elitism and exclusive turf to wider and more general ground in which laypeople experience life vicissitudes and ultimately realize wisdom. As Stephan Hall (2010) noticed after an extensive review on the wisdom literature and empirical studies for his current book, Wisdom: From philosophy to neuroscience, “we can find wisdom not only on the steps of Parthenon, but also around a family dinner table” (p. 14). The private, the domestic and the familial domain, according to Hall (2010), is the place where wisdom happens and has its greatest lifelong impact.
We should take it back near to us so as to be searched out as a nurturing essence of positive human nature. Spinoza once said that “Philosophy should be a school of thought investigating on revelation of wisdom and not attainment of knowledge” (as cited by Stephen S. Hall, 2010, p. 37). Not to mention philosophy, for lay people wisdom shouldn’t be a target to attain. It is not even something that we need to chase expecting to conquer. Rather, it has been around us at very close proximity, within social relations and in between interactions with others (Fuller, 2006).
Just like Candide’s confession in Voltaire’s satire novel (1759) after coming back from a long journey on a harsh, real land, in a pursuit of happiness, (Adler, Fadiman, Goetz, & Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1990), pp. 873-885), what we need to do is realize the fact that the value of life is in the living. The presence, worthiness, and values of wonder and wisdom can only be understandable, if not reachable, by experiencing life vicissitudes in real world.
From Modernity to Post-Modernity
Our current societies, according to Zygmunt Bauman (2008), have brought profound change to all aspects of the human condition by experiencing a significant shift from a ‘heavy, hardware-focused modernity’ to a ‘light, liquid, software-based post-modernity. Liberating from universal agenda and general rules and homogeneous norms and features expecting individuals to be a royal follower in a unified form, this postmodern society we live in contests taken-for-granted knowledge and expectations (Seidman, 2008).
In the midst of transformation from modernity to post-modernity, social units lose their subject to pay loyalty and thus loose up its unitarity. As a result, the unity of general society has started to fall apart and instead generated individual confusion and social segregation mainly led by capitalism. Although capitalism has been successful in terms of its universal power in unifying the world under the realm of productivity and efficiency, it also has spawned insatiable, growth-oriented life style and a new pursuit of happiness. Treating happiness as a target to pursuit and expecting an expansion-based way of life render our society fiercely competitive and separated. Amid illusionary pursuit of mirage, both societies and individuals misplace the value of stability and balance to an invisible hand of the market economy and become irresponsible and bewildered.
The current rarity of wisdom discourse, therefore, I argue, is not free from the critique of modernity. Unlike the increased demands of new socio-psychological information on individuality and the life experience, and its roots and roles in positive human development, I claim that the current status of wisdom is still safeguarded by religious dogma and philosophical elitism with which many intellectuals and politicians tend to put sophisticated and yet power-friendly social norms and virtues into the web of wisdom discourse and exemplars by putting lay people’s life course dynamics under increasing surveillance and control (Foucault, 1979).
I argue that we need to deflate this instant glorification of the role of wisdom and to extend its functional range to somewhat unnoticed and yet indispensable laws of life. This search for the universal traits and circumstantial attributes by which good human characters flourish needs to focus on the relationship between the personality and the life experience.
Again, by targeting audiences who see wisdom as so remote and rare that it seems to belong to supreme philosophy and divine religiosity, my new line of inquiry is based on my premise that if wisdom is essentially unattainable and belongs to the upper turf of thoughts and beliefs, as Robinson (1990), Immanuel Kant (as cited by Adler et al., 1990), and Paul Baltes et al (1995, 2000(Adler, et al., 1990; Baltes & Staudinger, 2000; Baltes, Staudinger, Maercker, & Smith, 1995; Robinson, 1990) concurred, why don’t we make it come to us through a way of realization?
Wisdom in Life: Is Wisdom for Attainment or for Realization?
The life processes, the ups and downs of life, teach that wisdom requires us to see the utility of hardship, and that experiencing hardship amplifies our appreciation of happiness and wellness. When we are unable to integrate both ends of the spectrum, we resist or become defeated by hardship, change, and loss (Ardelt & Oh, 2010).
Life crises and hardships do not automatically lead to wisdom. People will only grow wiser if they are willing and able to learn from their life experiences and be transformed in the process (Moody, 1986). Integrating and using our experiences informs our future choices, thoughts, and behaviors. In this regard, wisdom takes into account multiple traits in personality development discourse. Taking a life lesson demands not only cognitive awareness, but, more importantly, reflective and affective efforts. Integration and constructive usage of our experiences, thus, entail a multidimensional wisdom approach (Ardelt, 1997, 1998; 2000a, 2000b, 2003, 2004, 2007; Ardelt & Oh, 2010; Sternberg, 1998; Sternberg & Jordan, 2005).
In fact, wisdom is not a matter of having a coping strategy. In combination with cognitive, affective, and reflective motivations, it involves the possibility of real growth and transformation (Ardelt, 2007; Sternberg & Jordan, 2005; Randall & Kenyon, 2001; Staudinger & Kessler, 2008; Staudinger & Kunzmann, 2005). Without openness to experience and personal transformation, crises and hardships might result in depression and despair rather than wisdom development (Allport, 1961; Ardelt 1998, 2005; Bianchi, 1994; Erikson, 1964, 1980, 1982; Erikson et al., 1986; Pascual-Leone, 2000).
In a nutshell, the development of wisdom might not depend on what people experience, but on how they deal with events (Holliday and Chandler, 1986, emphases made in the original) throughout the life course. This defines the role of personality and social relations in the development of wisdom. The strategies of growth and self-regulation in association with balanced self- and relational-knowledge, in this regard, are basic criteria for wisdom development (Staudinger & Kessler, 2008).
In the following lines, I provide theoretical and empirical literature in both sociology and psychology focusing on how and to what extent the life-course perspectives and humanistic personality approaches can contribute to the development of wisdom and how growth and adjustment interact with each other in a continuum of searching for happiness and better meaning and quality of life.
The life Course Perspectives
A major point of sociological analysis in the life course is to reveal that even though human organisms have the potential to interact with social structures and institutions, this potential, in many cases, is not realized nor even recognized with increased age (Dannefer & Uhlenberg, 1999).
Berger and Luckmann’s book, The social construction of reality: A treatise in the sociology of knowledge, (1966) and Holstein and Gubrium’s book, Constructing the life course (2000) jointly claim, however, that unlike the conventional, collectivist point of view, the current, constructivist perspective on the life course sheds more lights on the individual’s heterogeneous ways of seeing and interpreting the world. Human beings as more active, independent beings not only receive social objects and systems but also create them (Berger & Luckmann, 1966). Considering that the perspective on the life course is changing from a collective to a constructive view, it is noteworthy to revisit the implications of more heterogeneous individuals through Erik Erikson’s moratorium spectrum.
Erikson (1982) notices that each stage has some sort of psychosocial moratorium that gives each novice some extra time to master that stage. Particularly in the transitional period from childhood to adulthood, and from midlife to late adulthood, social institutions work as guides, allowing novices to be relatively free from either upcoming or existing adult responsibilities so that they can develop their identities within guiding social structures and norms.
Riesman (1950) and Mead (1970) characterize Erikson’ s era as a shifting period from the traditional-oriented type (postfigurative society) to the inner-directed type (cofigurative society). Inner-directed people exercise choice and initiative to some extent, but the general heading and pattern of acceptable behavior is set before they embark upon their next life stages. Thus, the resulting individuality is not a threat to the social order for its increased self-governance and emotional adjustment within the social realm (Riesman, 1950)
Côté (2006), however, claims that this is no longer the case. The recent prolongation of youth, as characterized in terms of widespread, longer education participation along with the diminished normative structure governing the transition to adulthood, result in the extension of the identity stage beyond adolescence and even young adulthood. Cowgill (1974) notices that as society becomes more mobile and individualized, the social status of the elderly who used to be regarded most wise among other age groups has decreased, leaving less room for them to dwell longer in a modern society as a productive social agent and thus making harder for them to adjust to an advanced age successfully.
The institutionalized moratorium has shifted from exceptional to normative events in postmodern societies (Côté, 2006), and it has given rise to other-directed (Riesman, 1950) and prefigurative society (Mead, 1970), where parents, adult children and societal institutions no longer have as much authority or obligation as before and where young people and old people alike are asked for an increased degree of self-identity, self-determination and emotional adjustment.
Personality Theories and Researches
Traditional emphases in personality theory and research can be summarized as tripodic features: individual differences, motivation, and holism (Caprara & Cervone, 2000). How are persons different from one another? What sorts of temperaments, traits, and types do people have? The structure of human individuality is the main concern for studying individual personality differences. The inquiry into causes of this human personality spectrum comes down to motivation. What energizes and directs the person’s behavior? What are the internal and external engines of human action which contribute to individual difference?
The dynamics of human action thus run parallel to motivational diversity, and its analysis requires a holistic approach to understanding personality (Caprara & Cervone, 2000). “In a nutshell, personality psychologists focus their attention on the agentic (goal-directed) individuality of whole persons” (Robins, Fraley, & Krueger, 2007, pp.5-6). Personality psychologists seek ultimately to make sense of individual persons as integrated and intentional agents, living in a complex social world (Caprara & Cervone, 2000).
Generally speaking, the abyss of human personality has been explored in three intertwined schools of social psychology: psychodynamics, behaviorism, and humanism (Caprara & Cervone, 2000). Freud’s triad analysis of the psychodynamics—id, ego, and superego—and Carl Jung’s collective unconscious scrutinize the dynamic forces hidden deep within us. For John B. Watson (1913), on the other hand, attention should be paid to the importance of learning to respond to environmental stimulation. From Ivan Pavlov’s conditional reflex studies to B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning theories, the essential keynotes of personality research focus on our outward behavior rather than internal states such as feelings and unconscious dynamics, relying on observable behavior that could be objectively measured and recorded (Caprara & Cervone, 2000).
Unlike psychoanalytic theory and the early behaviorists, who saw human behavior as responsive to instincts or the environment (given conditions), humanistic-constructivist theory claims that personal growth is the product not only of what kinds of experience people have, but more importantly, of how people experience them. Its emphasis on self-awareness and human capability to shape our own lives through choice (Rathus & Nevid, 1980) takes the theme of growth-driven adjustment perspective into the center of human personality development. We can interpret conditions with determined willpower and initiate our own behavior through our conscious awareness and self-knowledge (Maslow, 1970; Rogers, 1951; Horney, 1970; Deci, 1980). Humanistic theories ask how people can achieve authentic living while resisting pressures to blindly follow given conditions and circumstantial constraints throughout the life course.
Self-Actualization and Growth
Abraham Maslow (1970), one of the humanistic scholars, believed that human beings do more than just react to environmental demands. In fact, his writings claim that what separates human beings from lesser creatures (primitives) is the capacity for self-actualization, or self-initiated strivings to achieve our potentials. Through striving to live up to our potential and to experience life, we create new demands for adjustment. But by doing so, we can reap great pleasure and experience personal growth (Rathus & Nevid, 1980).
Carl Rogers’ (1951) self theory emphasizes learning about oneself as a basis for personal growth and feelings of well-being. He believes that human nature is basically good and growth-oriented; thus, self-actualization requires integrity and psychological congruence —in short, self-acceptance. Self-idealization is another element that, according to Rogers, motivates us to reduce the differences between our self-concepts and self-ideals.
According to his humanistic model, we are happiest when our goals seem possible and reachable, and we continue to strive forward to achieve them. The more important point of his humanistic model is the acknowledgment of the fact that we may never quite get them, but the process of striving, the good struggle, gives our lives their meaning and their purpose (Rathus & Nevid, 1980). Personal growth, in this regard, can be defined as “self-initiated efforts to become whatever we believe we are capable of being” (Rathus & Nevid, 1980, p. 110).
It results from meeting demands to adjust and elevating ourselves beyond mere adjustment (Staudinger & Kunzmann, 2005; Staudinger & Kessler, 2008). Its maladjustment stems from failure to use the crisis as an opportunity for growth (Erikson, 1964; Rathus & Nevid, 1980). Erikson came to view the identity growth crisis not only motivational as a time of strife and personal upheaval, but also as opportunity for change. The emotional impact of the identity crisis provides the impetus for growth and decision making (Rathus & Nevid, 1980, p. 30).
Self-Realization and Growth
More than a century ago, John Dewey (1893 ) criticized the then-current notion of the self as a presupposed, fixed schema. His substitute was “the self as always a concrete specific activity and therefore, of the identity of self and realization” (p. 653). The idea of realization implies the conception of capacities or possibilities concerning unrealized powers (capacities), which will avoid difficulties (Dewey, 1893 ). Instead of acting to create some presupposed ideal self, he argues that realizing capacity means acting to realize their full meaning. The notion of a working or practical self as opposed to that of a fixed or presupposed self, thus, dwells in the conception of capacity not as a general from, but as an individualized organism concerning both individual and communal interests (Dewey, 1893).
In her book Neurosis and Human Growth, initiated from clinical and therapeutic interest in the pathological human psyche, Karen Horney (1970) claims that self-realization plays a critical role in overcoming a human’s neurotic obsession with perfection. According to Horney, neurosis is defined as “a process which drives him farther and farther away from his real self and which thus endangers his personal growth” (p. 333). Striving for perfection and superiority to others makes the neurotic egocentric and more isolated emotionally and socially, and, ultimately, makes externalizations more difficult. As a result of all these distortions, the insecurity the neurotic feels in regard to others is considerably reinforced (Horney, 1970)
Horney claims the best way to deal with these destructive neuroses is an autonomous realization of one’s potential so as to achieve free, healthy development of the self as part of a bigger, growing, organismic whole. By having the self-awareness and realization of their capabilities actually outgrow their neurotic egocentricity, people will become more aware of the broader issues involved in their particular life and in the world at large (Horney, 1970).
Self-Determination and Growth
Self-determination theory is about humans’ capacity and will to choose (Deci, 1980). It shares its emphasis on positive human capacity with other humanistic perspectives, in that it holds that people have considerable capacity to choose behaviors based on inner desires and autonomous perceptions and interpretations of general conditions. It embraces both an organismic and a socio-contextual framework for the study of personality growth and development (Deci & Ryan, 2002). For an organismic perspective, self-determination theory conceives of humans as active, growth-oriented organisms that engage with challenges in their environment. These challenges require “cognitive, affective, and motivational processes as mediators of behavior which is an actualization of their potentialities, capacities, and sensibilities” (Deci, 1980, p. 207).
This organismic capacity to choose interacts either constructively or destructively with environmental and nonconscious forces (Deci & Ryan, 2002). Considering this dialectic relation between the individual and society, adjustment is defined as a process of people’s perception of causality from internal to external reward that accompanies the underlying motivational change (Deci & Ryan, 2002). Deci (1980) argues that when this adjusting process occurs, people’s intrinsic motivation tends to decrease, and so does their sense of competence and self-determination. On the other hand, when external factors promote choice and confidence in response to a person’s initiations, they will facilitate a shift from the extrinsic to the intrinsic motivational subsystem. Thus, the perceived locus of causality will become more internal (Deci, 1980).
Development is self-directed and thus intentional (Brandstädter, et al., 1999; Greve, Rothermund, and Wentura, 2005). Despite the variance in magnitude and action strategies, individuals take the initiative in setting particular goals and then regulate steps to achieve those goals. In a study of perceived benefits of stress among rape victims, Burt and Katz (1987) claim that self-determined activity plays a huge role as a major dimension of growth.
Personality and Environment: Its Mutuality and Diversity
It is true that personality is less free from sociocultural constructs than personal interplay. Ford and Lerner (1992) agree that there are two primary factors contributing to the variance of goals: personal predilection and sociocultural influences. Neugarten (1969) and Dannefer and Uhlenberg (1999) confirm the importance of sociocultural patterning of social roles in adult life-course trajectories. Changing expectations for social roles in young and old adulthood can also be characterized by sociocultural patterns.
Moreover, personality orientation may be interpreted differently even in the same social circumstances. Deci and Ryan (2002) ask why negative feedback may be useful to some people while leaving others helpless and nonresponsive. They claim the variance of individuality and behavior depends on the types of feedback from social interactions as well as the quality of internalization, to which self-determination and capacity for willpower can contribute (Deci & Ryan, 2002).
It is no doubt that social relations and interactions are prerequisite to human cognition and emotion. As a social being, people are destined to interact with others and among many others intergenerational relations play out as a reservoir of memories and events that outlast any stage in their life courses (Bengtson, Robertson, National Institute for the, William Petschek National Jewish Family, & National Conference on Grandparenting and Family; Bengtson & Schaie; King, Silverstein, Elder, Bengtson, & Conger, 2003). These resources wait for awareness, revival, and reevaluation with unlimited access. Wisdom as emotional, reflective, and cognitive action and reaction can lay out a bridge for us to go back to the life we have lived and to help us come up with more humble and open-mined perspective on the present world and future life.
Another important contribution that the humanistic and the life course perspectives can make is reevaluating family values and social virtues with regard to having elderly members and interacting with them. Despite the argument of their decreasing social status (Cowgill, 1974), the elderly, whether in a familial setting or in society, have more to give than we might think. In this regard, it is critical, I argue, to revalue the benefits that individuals in youth-driven society can get from the experience of wisdom and life wonder that the elderly might possess more after the long life passage with rich experiences. In brief, the study of the effects of social, intergenerational relations on the experience of wisdom and the development of wisdom can contribute to the efforts of finding optimal and more balanced social and human characteristics.
Research Design, Data Analysis, Result, and final comments will continue to be posted….