The original title for this article was going to be “Knowledge Verses Wisdom.” But these ideas are not actually opposites. It’s a common misconception that knowledge and wisdom are somehow separate, or that one grows at the expense of the other, or that it’s difficult or impossible to develop both. This article will take a more holistic view, examining knowledge and wisdom not as mutually exclusive qualities but as different aspects of the same journey.
“In the pursuit of knowledge, every day something is added. In the practice of [wisdom], every day something is dropped.” -Lao Tzu
Knowledge is expansive. It’s cognitive, it’s external, and it can be absorbed in large quantities without additional action(s) being required, because knowing about something doesn’t always require one to actually do something. Knowledge can expand one’s view of the world. It can facilitate creativity by allowing the collection and synthesis of many different pieces of information to make something entirely new. Knowledge has the potential to multiply all human characteristics, good and bad. In a kind person, knowledge can nurture acts and attitudes of great altruism; in a vain person, it can feed a cruel and jealous superiority complex. Ultimately, though, knowledge is an outward path — it is sought externally rather than cultivated internally.
Wisdom is a bit more complex. It’s a synthesis of the cerebral, emotional and experiential. Wisdom is not something to be learned in the library; you don’t read, think, or pray your way into wisdom. Wisdom comes through experience, as a result of actually doing and going through things, good and bad. It expands one’s view of humanity, both in oneself and others. It would be hard to be wise without knowing one’s own brand of insanity, and the compassion to let others have their craziness, too. Even when directed or applied externally, wisdom generally deals with the internal world. And wisdom also seems to soften and balance the characteristics of a person in the same way that knowledge multiplies them. Ultimately wisdom is an inward path — it is found through gaining knowledge of oneself and one’s own personal truths.
“Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers. It may not be difficult to store up in the mind a vast quantity of facts, but the ability to form judgments requires…the tempering heat of experience and maturity.” -Calvin Coolidge
So knowing and being wise deal with different parts of life and selfhood. Yet they also intertwine, adding value to this life journey in unique ways, simultaneously. Knowledge can enrich the journey, like a guide to the route, while wisdom inspires it like the view of mountains out the window. But they both have their place on the path. Further, each informs the other, as a mountain view is enhanced by knowing why the peaks have snow on them in summer, and the fact that maybe you’re driving through old sacred ground can instill a sense of context.
So knowledge and wisdom can both provide service to you, others, and each other. As you go forward in your life and your pursuit of knowledge, then, you can be aware of the little moments of experience that arise from time to time, moments that give you a chance to learn something new, act on your knowledge, and be someone you weren’t in the previous moment. When those moments come up for you, seize them! And after you do, allow yourself a little grin for the knowledge that, hey, you just got a little wiser.
“Rowan Groth doesn’t write bios in the 3rd person. That said, I do edit videos, write articles, travel about, play a couple of instruments (plus singing), and write comedy. Building computers and introspecting go in there too. Late night conversations and good tea are my favorite things.”
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