Wisdom is not the same as being smart
Monday, April 15, 2013 9:39 AM
Somewhere I read that "Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad." I think that is a good distinction, maybe even a wise one. Someone else once described a person as being really smart - maybe being smart is the same as being knowledgeable - but that person didn't have a lick of common sense. Maybe having great common sense is necessary to be wise.
I've been thinking about wisdom, because I had earlier received "an essay - rough hewn," as he described it, from my favorite high school teacher, Ray Pearson, now of the Duluth area. He was also my very first writing instructor, our high school principal and now a friend. Titled simply "Wisdom," he said, "Not obsessively, but from time to time I've mused about wisdom. What would be a good definition? How does one acquire it? Why pursue it? Is it on just one level or does it have layers? Questions like that."
It is something I too have thought about as I have gotten older, maybe wondering if I am or will ever be wise! Of course I also realized that knowing what that is would not be easy. But in reading his "rough-hewn essay" I thought I would certainly love to discuss it with him sometime.
Back to my friend's writing, he said, "Initially I thought you had to be intellectually gifted in order to acquire wisdom. A good friend in graduate school brought me up short by a statement he made. Keep in mind he was a Ph.D., (and) he came from India where he had been marinated in a culture unlike ours.
"We were both enrolled in a course studying the elements of group dynamics. Our professor was bright, a bit abrasive but still an imaginative teacher.
"One day my friend said to our instructor, 'It has been an amazement to me that you have acquired all the techniques of group dynamics yet lack the warmth to bring your teaching to a higher level. There is no question that you are a very bright person. It is my fervent wish that one day you will acquire wisdom.' My friend, Soli, intended his comments as a friendly, constructive, observation.
"Soli's comments helped me realize that wisdom consisted of more than just being intellectually gifted."
Somewhere along the line, I had realized that too. I also know people who are very bright - intellectually gifted - but who would never be described as being wise or having wisdom.
My friend's essay went on to describe a later experience he had with someone, which added the insight that "character is a part of wisdom."
In further paragraphs, he added "the traits of virtue and valor," and finally "experience. Life's lessons learned and remembered." He summed it up as wisdom is "an accumulation of knowledge, experience and attitudes." And attitudes include "Kindness, respect, patience, generosity, service and humility" as examples; "Daily practice gives them strength."
There are a lot of "wise old sayings" out there that have a lot to do with wisdom. For instance, "Knowledge talks and wisdom listens!" or "Wise men talk because they have something to say. Foolish men talk because they have to say something."
Some unknown source related this tale: One day a donkey fell down a well, and he cried piteously for hours while the farmer tried to figure a way to get him out. Finally, the farmer decided it was impossible. The animal was old, and the well was dry anyway. So the farmer asked his neighbors to come over and help cover up the well. The neighbors came, bringing their shovels, and started shoveling dirt into the well.
When the dirt started hitting him, the donkey began braying pitifully. But soon, to the amazement of those shoveling up above, his cries of anguish changed completely to what sounded like happy brays. After a few more shovelfuls, the farmer stopped and leaned over the side of the well to see what was happening down there. He was astonished at what he saw: with every shovel of dirt that hit his back, the donkey was shaking it off and taking a step up onto the growing pile of dirt.
All of the farmer's neighbors continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal, and the donkey continued to shake it off and take a step up. Pretty soon, to everyone's amazement, the donkey stepped up over the edge and out of the well, and happily trotted off.
The moral of the story is that life is likely to shovel dirt on you at some time or another. The trick to getting out of the well is to shake it off and take a step up. Through applying wisdom, every adversity can be turned into a steppingstone. What happens to you is not as important as how you react to it. And, as my friend said in his essay, wisdom requires knowledge, experience and good attitudes.
Another wise old saying suggests that it is easier to get older than it is to get wiser. But, again according to my friend, "Wisdom, in its fulfillment, is the most powerful force on earth." It's worth the hard work. Plus it's fodder for great discussions