Barry Schwartz: The real crisis? We stopped being wise

TED talk – Barry Schwartz: The real crisis? We stopped being wise

Feb 2009

Barry Schwartz makes a passionate call for “practical wisdom” as an antidote to a society gone mad with bureaucracy. He argues powerfully that rules often fail us, incentives often backfire, and practical, everyday wisdom will help rebuild our world.

Check out the 20 mins short video.

I find Barry’s following message especially true:

“…  as we turn increasingly to rules, rules and incentives may make things better in the short run, but they create a downward spiral that makes them worse in the long run. Moral skill is chipped away by an over reliance on rules that deprives us on the opportunity to improvise and learn from our improvisations and moral will is undermined by an incessant appeal to incentives that destroy our desire to do the right thing. And without intending it, by appealing to rules and incentives, we are engaging in a war on wisdom.”

In life, there are apparently many questions without known answers, and many situations seen as hopeless and beyond our control. When “we” can’t understand or solve these problems at our level, we tend to turn to “higher entity” for answers.

I guess it’s a lot easier for most of us to push the personal responsibility of our lives to an external entity. That way, we avoid the accountability for our own actions. Harmful actions can thus be proudly committed in the name of the “higher entity” without remorse or guilt. We stopped doing the right thing, because “right” is now fuzzy.

It’s always easier to simply believe and not question because we’ll have less work to do, less facts to verify, less concepts to learn and digest, and less cultivation to do. “Why so serious?”, some will say. Because ignorance begets suffering. We all need that wisdom beyond blind faith to start taking responsibility of our lives.

IMHO, Barry Schwartz’s secular statement above says it well, if you substitute “rules” with “dogmas” and “incentives” with concepts such as “believers will rise to heaven while non-believers suffer in hell forever”.

We need to stop creating or turning into zombies. Wisdom must take center stage. Wisdom guides all actions.

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