The Season on Cultivation
In order to make good on our New Year’s resolutions, in order to make ourselves and our world better, we need to develop our skill at the art of living. During these ten weeks, we think about the concepts and competencies which help us live well – primarily in terms of virtue. We seek to build up our characters and cultivate habits which over time produce human flourishing.
In thinking about virtue, we follow the research of (among others) two modern psychologists, Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman. We take our structure from their classification of the virtues and many of our resources from the VIA Institute on Character which continues that work. Peterson and Seligman enumerate six main virtues – wisdom, courage, justice, humanity, temperance, and transcendence – with multiple sub-virtues belonging to each one (they call these character strengths).
You can test your own character strengths and find out your “signature strength” on the VIA website.
Week 1 – Wisdom
In Peterson and Seligman’s classification, wisdom is essentially intellectual excellence. Being wise entails being rational and thinking logically, but it goes far beyond that to include being creative, curious, and open-minded. It also entails loving learning and having a strong sense of perspective. We will explore each of these aspects as we return to this week year after year.
This year we focus our observance on curiosity and seek to cultivate a habit of taking an interest in all that life has to offer. We seek out new experiences and appreciate difficult situations for what we can learn from them.
[Peterson, Christopher, and Martin E. P. Seligman. Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2004. Print.]
● Read up on conceptions of wisdom and what it means for your life. Thought about virtue and about wisdom in particular is perennial. Some of the oldest works, like Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, are still the best. There is also fantastic current research into the subject, like Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow. Check out this extensive list of books and articles and find something which interests you.
● When cultivating your curiosity, it helps to have a growth rather than a fixed mindset. Read this blog post by Sal Khan of Khan Academy discussing the distinction and then check out the research into these ways of thinking by Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University.
● Throughout the week (and into the year), try to pay special attention to your own curiosity. Notice when something piques your interest and follow up on it. Don’t let it pass you by.
● Try one of these fantastic activities, including movies to watch and ideas for ways to cultivate your curiosity.
● Encourage others to be curious by sharing things which are familiar to you but foreign to them. Take turns teaching each other.
● Think about how you can encourage others to have the same reflective experiences you have just had. Use the same list of activities, but think about how you could facilitate those activities for others.
Have other ideas for how to celebrate wisdom this week? Comment below!