It was one of those nondescript days that came and went, except there was a one minute detail that stayed with me. Walking along the warm summer streets of New York City, the bustling people and laughter and perplexing smells from the meat carts (was it intoxicating or not?) aroused my senses and my ears pricked as I heard snippets of conversations from the random passersby near me. A group of friends taking up most of the sidewalk walked toward me and their voices blurred together until I heard one line: "The point of life is meeting new people."
I whipped around but there was no way to identify who said that, no way to figure out the context of the sentence. The statement was there and it was in the air and it permeated my thoughts. It was a prime example of the doppler effect in conversations, muffled voices far away and right when we were passing each other is when I heard that line, and then it was gone, fading away with the background noises of the city. That was one of the moments when I understood that wisdom is all around us, whether we take the time to look for it or if it's placed directly in front of us.
Most people tend to gravitate toward their parents, celebrities, teachers and great thinkers for advice and words of wisdom. However, I think that if we take a step back and look at the everyday people in our lives, we'll find that there are even more pearls of wisdom to be harvested. We as a society need to look beyond the facade that our job title defines us, that monetary amounts define the value of who we are as a person. We need to look deeper within other people and within ourselves. It is inaccurate to assume that wisdom comes only from those who have achieved so much or those who have graying hair and wrinkled skin. Everyone from any age has the potential to be wise.
Ursula M. Staudinger is a co-founder of The Berlin Wisdom Project, an initiative that explores the field of "wisdom studies." She says in The New York Times that "true wisdom involves recognizing the negative both within and outside ourselves and trying to learn from it."
I completely agree with that statement. Self-awareness and reflection, or even sitting in a room alone in one's thoughts, is something some people don't want to cultivate. In a shocking survey (excuse the pun), it was found that we'd rather give ourselves electric shocks than sit alone in our thoughts. I love being around friends and family and people in general, however taking time to reflect is almost, if not equally, as rewarding.
Wisdom comes from making mistakes and living your life to the best of your ability. It comes from experience. When flipping through my old yearbook, most of the quotes I saw appeared to be the cookie cutter words of wisdom. And there's nothing wrong with that, but yearbook quotes (and words of wisdom, for that matter) don't necessarily have to come from great thinkers, the brilliant minds from history, the quintessential "Top 100 Quotes of All Time" lists. We're living in a time when so many everyday people are given a chance to have their voices heard and it's refreshing to have words of wisdom come from people who, really, are just like us.
One of my favorite websites to peruse through is Humans of New York. Brandon Stanton created Humans of New York in the summer of 2010 with the idea that "it would be really cool to create an exhaustive catalogue of New York City's inhabitants." With a goal of 10,000 images in mind, he set off to collect pictures and quotes from various New Yorkers in the city. It took off in popularity, and some of the quotes have such a beautiful insight it's incredible to think that I feel such a connection to people I don't know.
My high school yearbook quote was from Art Buchwald: "The best things in life aren't things." I think I would amend it to this one that I found from Humans of New York: "Image is very important to me. But I'm always asking myself: 'How much is personal expression, and how much is facade?'"
By opening my eyes to new people and new experiences, I'm learning so much more in addition to the already established well of quips and insights and quotes. Here are some of my favorite words of wisdom from everyday humans of New York: