Robert Roy Britt is a former editor and chief of space.com and live science authored a fascinating article whereby he stated that when asked by researchers to reflect on the disagreements they have with others, an astonishing 82% of people said they were usually right and the other person was usually wrong. That’s impossible math, of course, and it is just one example of our collective lack of wisdom, and how hard it can be to gain some.
If wisdom came with age or smarts, we would all be a lot more tolerant, considerate and respectful of others, according to a vast body of research on the topic. We’d listen more, spout less, and be more thoughtful about contradictory information and opposing opinions. Our world would be less polarized and acrimonious.
We’d feel better, too.
“Emerging research suggests that wisdom is linked to better overall health, well-being, happiness, life satisfaction, and resilience,” scientists concluded in a review of research published in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry.
This same author profoundly affirmed that while there’s no proof that being wiser will make you healthier, the insights that come with wisdom are said to bring greater individual well-being though increased acceptance, gratitude and calmness, all of which means less anxiety and depression.
But alas, neither age nor intelligence automatically beget wisdom. Instead of growing wiser, most of us just become more intellectually inflexible with time, our beliefs more resolute, our minds increasingly closed off to opposing facts and views.
Meanwhile, if our increasing inability to agree on anything these days serves as a gauge, wisdom is on the wane.
What is wisdom? He asked.
He responds that one reason we’re all not wiser is our utter lack of understanding about what wisdom actually is and how to use it, well, wisely.
For thousands of years, wise people across multiple cultures — from Buddha to Plato to Gandhi — have tried to define wisdom. Yet a universal definition remains elusive, even among modern big thinkers who study its many aspects, sources and benefits. Dictionaries fall well short, with simplistic but popular definitions like “good sense or judgment” or “the natural ability to understand things that most other people cannot understand.” Socrates gave us a succinct but not-so-helpful take: “The only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing.”
In theory and in practice, however, wisdom is all these things and so much more.
“Wisdom is more about acquiring a deeper understanding about meaning in life, of being able to see how and where you fit into the grander scheme of things and how you can be a better person for yourself and for others,” write Dilip Jeste, MD, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at the University of California, San Diego, and co-author Scott Lafee, in their 2020 book Wiser.
What wisdom is not, according to Robert Roy Britt. He then asserted that while it’s hard to pin down exactly what wisdom is, studies have shown clearly what it is not.
Wisdom is not age nor experience. The phrase “older is wiser” can be false as often as true. “Wisdom and age are not inextricably bound,” Jeste and Lafee write.
Wisdom often comes with age but, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, sometimes age comes alone.” Put another way: Young people are often the wise ones, even if us older folks won’t listen to them. “Some people garner wisdom sooner than others”.
A few years ago, says the author, Mark Leary, PhD, an emeritus professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, conducted that compelling survey in which people were asked to characterize their disagreements, resulting in the mathematically impossible 82% saying they were usually right and the other person was usually wrong.
“When it comes to our beliefs and opinions, most of us are much more confident than we should be,” Leary says.
There’s an interpersonal cost to lacking intellectual humility: It makes a person less likely to compromise and more likely to cause friction in relationships.
Further, we tend to reach the wisest conclusions when contemplating problems faced by loved ones or colleagues at work, not when trying to solve our own problems. “In those situations where we might care the most about behaving wisely, we’re least likely to do so,” Grossman writes.
And get this: People 60 and older exhibited no more situational wisdom than those ages 20 to 40.
“Contrary to the adage ‘with age comes wisdom,’ our findings suggest that there are no age differences in wise reasoning about personal conflicts,” the researchers concluded in the journal Psychological Science.
Shortly, you the reader will understand why I extensively quoted the aforementioned author who wrote meticulously on the concept of wisdom but first let me say that the needless controversy that emerged after a recent interview by the former Army Chief Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai necessitated this reflection aimed at putting his expressed thoughts in their proper perspective.
A young writer wrote thus: “My theory. Boko Haram is an enterprise. The wheel of the war must be kept spinning for the profiteers and racketeers of blood. The insurgency has raged on for more than a decade. And when it appears the vestiges of the insurgents are finally being erased, they rise again like the phoenix from the ashes – to become stronger, more coordinated and more ubiquitous. It is grand delusion to assume that the machinations of these deviants do not have insider abutment”.
The above quote from Fredrick Nwabufo’s February 12, 2020’s article titled “My Theory: Boko Haram is an Enterprise” describes the counterterrorism engagements in Nigeria, which has, over the last ten years, come to the fore of national discourse, and remains in the news almost daily. This is due in large part to the incessant attacks by Boko Haram terrorists who are bent on establishing an Islamic Caliphate in Nigeria’s North-East region.
According to a report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in June 2021, since taken up arms against the Nigerian state in 2009, Boko Haram terrorists have killed about 350,000 people in the North-East, 90 per cent of whom were children.
Similarly in the North-West, bandits have continued to murder, ransack communities and kidnap citizens (especially schoolchildren) in their hundreds for ransom; forcing schools closure in Kaduna, Katsina, Kebbi and Zamfara on different occasions.
This turn of events have also prompted something of a backlash against such military or “hard” approaches to countering terrorism. Partly in response, states and civil society have sought out softer, often preventive, measures to deal with violent extremism, many of which have been deemed more successful than military approaches and less likely to foment a new generation of violent extremists.
One of such advocates for a new approach to the fight against terrorism and banditry is the former Chief of Army Staff and current Nigeria’s Ambassador to Benin Republic; Lieutenant General Yusuf Tukur Buratai whose recent campaign for the deradicalisation of bandits and terrorists, and the education of northerners, which according to him will positively impact on the war against terror has been misrepresented in some of media platforms to portend that he was saying that Northerners are terrorists.
Buratai, while speaking on Friday, December 31, 2021 during a special end-of-year review programme on Channels Television tagged: Year 2021: Battles, Resilience And The New Normal reportedly emphasized that there should be more deradicalisation and further education on the impact and consequence of terrorism, banditry, kidnappings in the society to the people who live in town so that they don’t support the bandits or the terrorists in the bush.
To agree with the media reports that the statement by Buratai meant that Northerners are religiously attached to terrorism would be a misjudgment. Rather, Buratai was merely emphasizing the need for more proactive engagement in the area of ideologies.
Perhaps, in the current national security environment, there is little question that terrorism is among the gravest of threats. Massive resources throughout the government and private sectors have been allocated and re-allocated to the task of preventing terrorism. These efforts, however, often lack a conceptual – let alone empirically-based-foundation for understanding terrorists and their acts of violence.
Undoubtedly, this void creates a serious challenge at many levels, from policy-level decisions about how a state should respond to terrorism, to individual-level decisions about whether a given person of interest, who espouses extremist ideas, truly poses a serious threat to Nigeria’s personnel, assets, and interests.
Ideologies have been described as systems of belief with collective properties and purpose. “An ideology”, J. Leader-Maynard observed, “is a distinctive system of normative, semantic, and/or reputedly factual ideas, typically shared by members of groups or societies, which underpins their understanding of their political world and shapes their political behaviour”.
The collective social-components of ideology are central properties that are highlighted across the academic disciplines that have developed our understanding of the term. For Michael Freeden; the political theorist, ideologies constituted “imaginative maps collectively produced and collectively consumed in unpredictable ways”.
J. Wilson; a sociologist, similarly defined ideologies as cognitive maps of shared values and expectations delineating standards and expectations, thus serving both as a “clue to understanding and as a guide to action”.
The anthropologist; Clifford Geertz, meanwhile, described ideologies as “maps of problematic social reality and matrices for the creation of collective conscience”. How can these communal maps of our social world be ‘used’ to encourage collective violence?
From the forgoing, it could be inferred that ideology plays a crucial role in terrorist’s target selection; it supplies terrorists with an initial motive for action and provides a prism through which they view events and the actions of other people.
Those people and institutions whom they deem guilty of having transgressed the tenets of the terrorists’ ideologically‐based moral framework are considered to be legitimate targets which the terrorists feel justified in attacking.
As an extension of this, ideology also allows terrorists to justify their violence by displacing the responsibility onto either their victims or other actors, whom in ideological terms they hold responsible for the state of affairs which the terrorists claim led them to adopt violence.
While it is not the only factor which determines whether a potential target is attacked, ideology provides an initial range of legitimate targets and a means by which terrorists seek to justify attacks, both to the outside world and to themselves.
Therefore, Amb. Buratai has evoked consciousness on the need to engage more from the point of view of ideological beliefs, having identified it as a powerful message that motivates and propels ordinary human beings into action, which is being created by the interpretation of events by ideologues.
Observably, ideology has been seen to frame organizational structure, leadership and membership motivation, recruitment and support, and shapes the strategies and tactics adopted by the group.
Terrorists and Bandits craft their ideology by interpreting, reinterpreting or misinterpreting religion and politics. Ideology is used to attract and retain recruits as members, supporters and sympathizers.
Hence, Buratai applied his advocacy call for deradicaliation and further education on the basis that the personal history and worldview of an individual may make him or her more or less susceptible to a particular terrorist or extremist ideology.
Again, using ideology, contemporary terrorist groups recruit followers from a cross- section of society – the rich, the poor, the educated and the less educated. To generate both recruits and support, they indoctrinate their potential and existing support base. Ideology is inculcated by disseminating it in the form of information or propaganda using lectures, speeches, pronouncements, writings, etc.
So in Buratai’s viewpoint, to counter the threat posed by a group, its operational infrastructure must be dismantled and its conceptual infrastructure eroded. As terrorism is a vicious by-product of ideological extremism, Buratai has once again engineered government and society to develop an ideological response to make it difficult for terrorist groups to replenish their human losses and material wastage.
Broadly, terrorism is a vicious by-product of extremism, as such, it is essential to counter ideological extremism. The three approaches to combating this threat are to invest in operational counter terrorism, strategic counter terrorism and conflict resolution respectively.
Apparently, research on violent extremism is perhaps enjoying its long-overdue golden age, with more researchers, better data, and greater respect for strong theory and rigorous methods than ever before. Despite great progress, the relationship between ideology and violence remains poorly understood.
Individual pathways towards terrorism are immensely varied and complex and some, perhaps most, who go down those paths find ways in which to support violent outcomes while avoiding direct involvement in its execution. Such actions are celebrated and embraced at all levels of terrorist organizations, from group leaders and strategists to grassroot supporters. Causes, processes and conclusions are diverse.
Amb. Tukur. Yusuf Buratai; former chief of army staff and current Nigerian Ambassador to Benin Republic has for the umpteenth time called the attention of various stakeholders that there is much more to be done regarding the exploration of how, where and when ideology matters for our understanding of violent extremism.
Conclusively, ideology is not merely one element that sits aside these pathways that some encounter and others do not. Rather, ideology is fundamentally part of the environment, affecting all who participate and their perceptions of what they encounter, in different ways and to differing degrees. This is the essence of Buratai’s campaign for deradicalization and further education, which is being misrepresented.
*EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA).