Wisdom and Learning

October 2004

This past month, I had the chance to spend time in the company of some very remarkable women. The first opportunity came in the form of a “Wise Woman’s Retreat” that was held by The Woodhull Institute at their retreat house in mid-state New York. It was a weekend devoted to examining the topic of ethical leadership in our lives; the participants were women ranging in age from 40 to 84 years old. We had an artist, a CFO, an educator, a coach, and a political activist.

Socrates wrote “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” I went to the retreat with an open mind and heart, as a learner. It was fascinating to hear these women’s stories of their lives, the personal and professional challenges they have faced, and their own paths toward ethical leadership. When I first arrived, I noticed how different we all were; by the end of the weekend, I was amazed to discover how much we shared in terms of our dreams, goals, and values. We were knit together by a desire to make this world a better place, and by the realization that whether we live in a tiny rural village, in Harlem, or in a suburban setting, we can all impact our communities in our own way by exercising ethical leadership. I am still reflecting on all I learned about myself, ethical leadership, and my new friends.

The second opportunity to learn from other women came when four of my dear college pals decided to have a mini-reunion in Washington, DC, to honor and remember a friend who recently died. What struck me about my friends of 30-plus years is how much I was able to learn from them, about how they have lived their lives, what they have given their time and talents to, and the choices they have made over the years. Their energy, humility, service to their community, and devotion to their families reminded me that leadership does begin with us. I was also reminded that we can learn from even those who seem to be very much like we are, as every person has their unique perspective on this world and brings distinct gifts and contributions.

Are you a learner? Who is in your work or your community that you can learn from? Would “knowing you know nothing” move you towards greater wisdom? If I can serve you in exploring any of these questions, please ask.

Sharon Keys Seal

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