The city of Delphi was in the center of Ancient Greece. Delphi means “navel” as in “belly button” as if this were the center of the universe where human life somehow connected with the source of wisdom, the way a baby is connected to her mother before she’s born. There was a temple of Apollo in Delphi with a priestess known as the “Delphic Oracle” where people went to ask their questions and seek wisdom.

The Delphic Oracle was notorious for speaking in puzzles. The Oracle could not lie, but people often misunderstood the truth she spoke. For example, there was once a mighty king Croesus, king of Lydia, who consulted the Oracle because he wanted to wage war on Persia. The priestess told Croesus that if he went to war, he would destroy a great kingdom. Croesus thought that meant that he would destroy the great kingdom of Persia, but as it turned out the great kingdom he destroyed was his own.

The Oracle in Delphi once proclaimed that no man was wiser than Socrates. Socrates thought this was crazy, because he felt like he didn’t know anything. So he traveled around cross-examining all of the people who thought they were knowledgeable and whom others considered wise. Socrates discovered that all of them were somehow incomplete, illogical or inconsistent in their knowledge. But none of them seemed to recognize their own lack of knowledge. So Socrates concluded that the Oracle was right because he at least recognized his own lack of knowledge. “We all know nothing,” Socrates said, “but I seem to be the only one who knows that I know nothing.”

Most of what we know about Socrates today comes from his student Plato. In addition to writing many Socratic dialogues, Plato also wrote a book of Definitions. Of course, Plato was defining Greek words, not English words. The Greek word for wisdom is SOPHIA. Plato defined SOPHIA as non-hypothetical knowledge, knowledge of what always exists; knowledge which contemplates the cause of being. Philosophy, literally translated, is “The love of wisdom.”

Plato distinguished wisdom or SOPHIA from PHRONESIS or “practical wisdom”: “The ability which by itself is productive of human happiness; the knowledge of what is good and bad; the knowledge that produces happiness; the disposition by which we judge what is to be done and what it not to be done.” The closest word in English to this type of practical wisdom is probably “discernment.”
Plato says that SOPHIA is our own personal knowledge of what always exists—knowledge which contemplates the cause of being. What always exists? What is the cause of all being? Life itself. Life goes on. Whether you define the cause of all being as Father God or Mother Nature or the Universe itself, wisdom is sentient life, and all sentient life has its own wisdom.

The stillness in the center of your being is wisdom. But we don’t want to look inside ourselves. We’re not comfortable sitting in the silence. We want distraction and entertainment. We look for the answers OUTSIDE ourselves. But you’ll never find your answers outside yourself. You’ll find them inside yourself, through your own wisdom, when you start asking yourself the right kind of questions—Socratic questions like “What is truth?” and “What is wisdom?”

This type of contemplation is a very personal act. No one can contemplate for you. As a result, wisdom is nontransferable. Even if I have it, I can’t give it to you. You have to experience it yourself. If I could somehow package the wisdom of my own life experience into something that I could share with another person, I would give it to my daughter. When her body was forming within my body, I could consume food for her nourishment. But now that she’s her own person, I can’t give her my wisdom any more than I can consume food for her nourishment. I can give her advice in the same way I prepare meals for her or the same way a chef can share recipes.

A chef can assist in the selection of ingredients and cooking utensils; he can demonstrate techniques and methods of preparation. What he can't do is consume and digest the food for another person or guarantee that what he finds palatable will be palatable to another. We must each consume our own food, experience it with our own taste buds and our own metabolism. The digestive process is unique within each body determining how many of which nutrients are absorbed where, whether there's an allergic or gastrointestinal reaction, and whether the food is converted to energy, stored as fat, or eliminated. No matter how perfect the ingredients, recipe and preparation, some of the digested food is destined to become waste.

I am not a chef. The most perfect food that I ever prepared for my daughter was breast milk. My daughter consumed that exclusively for the first few months of her life. And as perfect as that food was for my baby, she still processed some of it into urine and stools. And so it is with wisdom. No matter how accurate the information, how organized the knowledge, how brilliant the teacher's method, or how sound the advice, some of it is always going to end up being crap. That's just the way it is. That fact doesn't deter us from appreciating a great meal, and it shouldn't deter us from sharing wisdom, either.

We each bring our own life experience to the table. We can read the same books and articles, attend the same workshops, hear the same speakers, but we're each going to respond differently to the exact same information. Each of us is unique. We will each process the exact same information in our own way. I may find something that works best for me, but that is no guarantee that it will work for you. Throw in differences in gender, birth order, natural abilities, and personalities and it's amazing to think that what has worked for one person could work for anyone else, let alone everyone else.

What will work for you? Wisdom. You already have it. It’s the truth that is living inside you and through you when you give yourself the freedom to be yourself and to live your own life socratically. Wisdom is Socratic Living.

Author's Bio: 

Laurie Gray earned her B.A. from Goshen College in 1986 and her J.D. from Indiana University School of Law in 1993. A former high school teacher, experienced trial attorney and child advocate, Laurie currently works as an author, public speaker and consultant through her company Socratic Parenting, LLC. Laurie’s debut novel Summer Sanctuary (Luminis Books/2010) won a Moonbeam Gold Medal for excellence in young adult literature. For more information on Laurie’s writing projects, please visit