Let’s say you’re walking down the street and you see a homeless guy acting erratically. On the one hand, you value compassion to some extent. You want to help people who are suffering. Yet, you also kind of value personal accountability. On top of that, you also value your personal safety. You also have various thoughts and impulses like the fact that you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped, that you’re a bad/selfish person for ignoring this man’s plight, that you’re busy and late to something important and don’t have time for this.
As you pass the homeless man, these values and thoughts tug at each other within your mind. You feel bad and want to stop and help but you’re also scared. You pity the man but you’re also a bit angry and indignant that such a prosperous society could let this sort of thing happen. You simultaneously feel that acknowledging this man’s struggle is both something worth doing and something not worth doing. As you walk on, that discord within you continues to bother you for much of the afternoon. No matter which perspective you take, none feel completely right.
Now, there are two ways to resolve this internal tension. The first way is a sort of fanaticism: you pick one perspective and double down on it to the expense of all others.
The second way is to acknowledge the contradictory nature of your own thoughts and feelings, and to choose a course of action in full awareness of that tension.
And this is what wisdom is: it’s the ability to allow a diversity of values and thoughts to emerge within your own mind, yet still be able to act despite them.