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Knowledge or Wisdom

My daughter was getting ready to go back to college after the holiday break. She and a couple of her friends were talking and one of them said to me. “Boy, you sure know a lot of stuff.” My first impression was to just shrug it off, but instead I replied, “Knowing ‘stuff’ and having wisdom though are not the same thing. The look I got showed that the statement confused them.

That was a week ago and since then I’ve been thinking a lot about the differences between knowledge and wisdom. Both of these words imply learning, but the application of that learning is divergent. In our society today we put great emphasis on learning. Our educational institutions are legion. You can find almost any kind of previously learned information on the internet, or ‘god forbid’ a library, but this kind of fact knowledge doesn’t translate into wisdom.

Someone once told me that ‘Developing common sense is the result of experiencing consequences.’ In my youth there were countless times when I would do something less than smart and suffered the consequences. If I should happen to glance up and see my father watching, he would just raise his eyebrows and smile. He knew the lesson was in the experience and anything that he might say would detract from the obvious. Common sense is a form of wisdom, so is experience.

In the past, wisdom was handed down from the elders to the younger generations. In most circumstances until recently it was essential that they be taught how to survive. It was a task that the entire community participated in. Instead today we teach our young people skills that they may never use in adulthood, activities designed to keep them active and have more fulfilling social lives. Nowadays, everyone’s head is in their cell phone, no one seems to come up for air or conversation. Family dinners seem to becoming less of an event and more of a burden, too much trouble in our busy, two-income households where our children’s social/sports/educational calendars dictate where and when we must be leaving us little time to teach, much less bond. As a result, we pursue knowledge and are confused by the term ‘wisdom’ accepting instead that with enough knowledge we will have wisdom.

As a physician for almost forty years, I have seen more young people graduate from not just college, but from advanced degrees, who know a truckload of things, but in my father’s words, “Can’t find their butts with both hands.” All that information that we’ve pumped into them and yet no life skills.

The two terms, wisdom and knowledge, can be described in another way. Heritage and legacy. Heritage is the knowledge that our society has accumulated over the centuries and that we inherit to use as we see fit. But our legacy, is the wisdom of the ages that is incumbent that it be passed down from generation to generation. Our legacy is the roadmap or how we apply knowledge. This legacy is that portion of our heritage that has application to our lives, our families, and our society, and without the recognition of its value we will surely lose our way.