Does wisdom expire? Well, some words of wisdom go cliché—like worn-out metaphors. For instance, I sigh when I read how leaders should act as servants. I nod-off when I read the 80-20 rule. There’s nothing new in either.
But some wisdom we can’t escape. Consider the guilt felt when we fall behind in courses. Or the guilt felt when we say unkind words. Naturally, we cringe when we break Golden Rules.
And certain wisdom never fades. A colleague had cancer and sought meaning—philosophical, not spiritual meaning. My advice? Don’t get razzle-dazzled by the wisdom in Wonder Woman; read the Buddhist 8-fold path instead.
The Buddhist 8-fold path lists rules that cross-over many faiths. The 8-fold path talks about right action, right speech, right mindset, right livelihood, right effort, right conduct, right thought, and right view. Break what’s right, and you’ll squirm.
But can you craft new wisdom? Yes, use wild metaphors that upend beliefs. As an example of a new metaphor, one book points to a middle ground between master and jack-of-all-trades (How to Be Everything: A Guide for Those Who (Still) Don’t Know What They Want by Emilie Wapnick). Another book makes a bee-otch an object of desire (Why Men Marry Bitches: A Guide for Women who are too Nice by Sherry Argov). Still others say to slow down life to speed up success.
If your metaphor has the F-word, place that bomb in a book title. Bookstores will feature your profanity on prime display. And if your metaphor rhymes, you’ll delight the world. “Fake it ’til you make it” sparked hope with many high school grads. When I asked a student stylist her hair-dressing dreams, she said, “Fake it ’til you make it.” Then she splatted color on my scalp.But remember that no matter how catchy the metaphor, wisdom is making a moral argument. John Truby shows how to make a moral argument in his book The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller:
- Make your story have actions tied to moral implications. Bundle these moral or immoral actions into a larger theme.
- Theme is not so much big ideas like good versus bad; “theme is the author’s view of how to act in the world” (p. 108). You set the code of the right way to behave.
- But don’t go overboard with preaching. Instead, let consequences dictate what counts as right action.
- Also, stuff your theme into a single sentence. Your theme could say, “Intimate love lasts when rooted in values.”
- Then, zero in on how your hero’s actions harm others. This is the moral starting point. As an example, start with a hero’s criminal behavior destroying his true love. Then end with hero’s realization of the opposite moral: “Intimate love lasts when rooted in values.”
- And show how your hero makes amends.
- Or assign each character a different take on the theme. Consider the theme, “Intimate love lasts when rooted in values.” The first character, the hero, harms his true love with his criminal behavior. The second character can’t commit to a promising relationship because of his false desire for an ex. The third character desperately buys love. For all these characters, make the moral action come back to the theme: “Intimate love lasts when rooted in values.”
- Or have the hero’s and the enemy’s values conflict. “Remember, values are deep-seated beliefs about what makes a good life” (p. 117). Give the hero and villain lots of opposing values. Grind these values together in the hero’s quest for the goal.
In stories, you act as God, laying down right ways to behave. So, draw wisdom from life-lessons, from values, or from twists in metaphors.
Wisdom can also come from itty-bitty lightbulbs. Author Mel Robbins counted down from 5 to 1 to get out of bed. She turned that flash into a book: The 5 Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage. Call it a creative spark!