Once upon a time I thought that I needed to know everything and tried to do that. However, earlier in my life I also learned being an elementary school teacher that I didn’t have to know everything. Of course, over time I have learned the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Today, if I want to know something I often turn to “Google”. If the answer isn’t there, I can make up my own and off we go, but I have to admit most knowledge (correct or not) can be found there. Wisdom is not so readily available.
How often it seems much easier if we can get someone to give us the answer. Having spent most of my life as a minister in the church, I have learned that people want to be told what to believe (at least they think they do). Yet when I preached one of the greatest compliments I could receive was that of hearing that parishioners were not asked to check their brains at the door. I often said that if someone has all of the answers, they haven’t asked all of the questions.
I have read somewhere that knowledge comes from filling one’s mind with information and data. On the other hand, wisdom usually involves emptying one’s mind. Sadly, I have learned that too many people walk around with lots of knowledge (or at least know where to get it), but wisdom is a rare commodity.
At its simplest wisdom can be called “common sense”. But as someone commented, “It is too bad that common sense isn’t even common anymore.” We live in a world that tends to value knowledge more than even common sense. We listen more to those who claim to have the answers, rather than attempting to live our lives out of wisdom.
I read recently that the theologian Paul Tillich when accused of not answering a question he had been asked replied, “It is not my task to answer your questions. My task is to help you discover the right questions, so that the answer will become obvious to you.” That is a wise statement. (However, I am afraid now that too many politicians might say this when they want to avoid answering a question.)
What happens when a sense of wisdom conflicts with being truthful? Life encourages us to be truthful but also kind and respectful. When asked “Do these jeans make look fat?” knowledge immediately sets our mind to work (no not really). Because we all know that wisdom tells us to be more respectful than even truthful. No matter how smart we might be, it is better to be wise.
Wisdom does seem to come with age, but age is not the main factor. How often have we heard the expression “Out of mouths of babes…”? Sometimes an infant may simply be telling the truth and sometimes it may hurt, but even then if we take the time to go beyond what we have heard and take the time to really listen, we may find the nugget of wisdom that we can use at another time.
To me, when I hear someone ask: “how can someone so smart do something so dumb” I realize that knowledge has once again fallen flat on its face and wisdom has gone unheeded once again.