Knowledge versus Wisdom

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One of the several privileges of being a geezer is that some people seem to think that we old coots are wise. Uh-oh. Just because we are able to answer some questions that younger folk cannot doesn’t necessarily mean we are wise. It only indicates that we have been around long enough to have accumulated a lot of knowledge. Useful knowledge? Maybe, maybe not. What it comes down to is that we have seen a lot and done a lot, and some of that mass of experience is occasionally useful.

A person gathers knowledge from experience. How they utilize that knowledge is either an indicator of wisdom or the lack thereof. It is said that good judgment comes as a result of the exercise of bad judgment. The wise or unwise use of knowledge falls pretty much into that frame of reference.

Just because some greybeard can respond to your request for advice by scratching his chin, looking thoughtful, and giving a slowly delivered answer, it doesn’t always mean he is wise. What it does indicate is that he has had sufficient experience with your particular problem that he can provide advice based on his having successfully dealt with something similar in his past. That can be wise advice only if he delivers it in such a way as to make it useful to you in the solving of your problem. Was he wise? Maybe, maybe not. It only meant he had ample experience on which to base a recommended and workable solution to your problem.

Wisdom is defined by Webster as having or showing good judgment.

We see, all about us today, people pontificating on subjects about which they really know very little. They pretend to be wise and are accepted as such by folks who don’t know enough to challenge them or who don’t have a platform from which to challenge them. Perfect examples can be seen every day on television. Tune in almost any TV channel or station during daytime hours and you can marvel or be appalled at the empty chatter emanating from the heavily made-up and coiffed talking heads. These folks have a nearly insurmountable pulpit from which to spout their particular brand of drivel.

They are not wise. They merely have the opportunity to assume the posture of wisdom. Even the most casual examination quickly exposes the fact that their mantle of wisdom is like the fabled Emperor’s new clothes ... nonexistent.

For examples of true wisdom, take a close look at the lives of the folks who work long and hard at jobs they hate so they can provide a better life for their kids and grandkids. These are the people who deprive themselves of everything but the very most basic needs. They scrimp and scratch and save so they can feed their kids well and so they can let their kids live in better neighborhoods than they, themselves, came from. These are the truly wise ones who try to anticipate the future and who plan to make that future attainable for their kids.

Other examples of wisdom are the young folks who come from poor backgrounds, but work themselves mercilessly so they can put aside something for the future. These are the kids who work two jobs so they can get through college and make Mom and Dad proud of the child they worked so very hard to raise well. They are the same kids who make sound career choices based on the wise advice they received from their parents, who didn’t have the same opportunities. These are the folks who seek and follow wise counsel, then go on to become leaders in their communities, or successful business owners, or outstanding examples in the fields of medicine.

Wisdom is not your ability to shout down or out jabber a guest on a mindless TV show. Wisdom is your ability to think things through and come to rational conclusions and to apply them to the best of your ability. These wise decisions can be as simple as your refusal to drink alcohol before you drive or denying yourself that extra piece of delicious pie you know would give you heartburn.

I fully believe wise decisions are not difficult to make and abide by. Yes, they are sometimes painful and bothersome, but it is always comforting to look back on that moment with a sense of satisfaction and pride. It is possible to make wise decisions many times a day, even though no one else would ever know. When the opportunity comes to wisely make really big, difficult decisions, the satisfaction is great, and sometimes you might even get some “attaboys” or some pats on the back. When you are faced with the requirement to wisely make really monumental decisions and you make the right call, the personal satisfaction and the sense of relief are usually far greater that the anguish that came before.

Having a lot of knowledge is not necessarily good if you can’t wisely apply it. In my past, I have had occasion to employ many overeducated folks who hardly had sense enough outside their very narrow field of specialization to flush the toilet. That is not to say they were stupid. They just didn’t have the experience to wisely use their knowledge to their benefit and mine. They were, mostly, curable.

I do not consider my geezerly self to be a wise man. I do, however, have well over three-quarters of a century of life’s experiences upon which to draw in helping make decisions that I hope will turn out to be wise. I am sometimes approached with requests for advice or guidance. Even though I make no claim to great wisdom, it is easy to appear wise in some of those circumstances because I have lots of experience. Sometimes, my experience is even directly applicable and useful to the person asking for my help.

Many times the making of a wise decision is very much like making a choice between right and wrong.

Wise decisions are not always attractive, but they are always wise.