Knowledge vs. Wisdom
It used to be that only a select few had access to certain content, or knowledge. Take, for example, an esteemed professor at Harvard in the 1950’s who was lauded for his vast amounts of subject knowledge; a walking encycolpedia, if you will. Because knowledge was seen as a commodity, it was often closely guarded, much like you would covet a family heirloom. The only way one could access it was to be one of the chosen few who were accepted to Harvard. Then something called the internet came along and completely shattered the notion of knowledge as a commodity. Today, anything there is to know can be learned on the internet.
So, if each one of us has access to the same sea of knowledge, why is that two people with the same amount of knowledge can have varying levels of success? Clearly, knowledge alone is not enough. You’ve probably heard of the phrase – knowledge is power. I believe that it is the potential for power. You see, the accumulation of knowledge on its own has no power. True power is only realized when knowledge is transformed into wisdom. Knowledge is a tool, whereas wisdom is the craft in which the tool is used.
While the education system has made great strides in terms of emphasizing the importance of nurturing wisdom, the balance still leans in the favor of accumulating knowledge. Most standardized tests are simply a measure of one’s knowledge, not what they can do with the knowledge (wisdom). Therefore, it’s easy for some students to take shortcuts to learn the bare minimum. Other students spend a large portion of their schooling memorizing various facts that they can regurgitate when asked to. Unfortunately, a small minority of students actually arrive at school each day asking the question – How will I use the knowledge I’ve gained today? For many, school is a have to, not a choose to.
Below is a folklore story which beautifully illustrates the power of wisdom.
A young man came to Socrates, the great wise man, and said, “I want to know everything you know.”
“If this is your desire,” said Socrates, “then follow me to the river.” Full of curiosity, the young man followed Socrates to the nearby river. As they sat down on the bank, Socrates said, “Take a close look at the river and tell me what you see.”
“I don’t see anything,” said the man.
“Look closer,” replied Socrates.
As the man peered over the bank and leaned closer to the water, Socrates grabbed the man’s head and shoved it under the water. The man’s arms flailed wildly as he attempted to escape, but Socrates strong grip kept him submerged. About the time the man was about to drown, Socrates pulled him from the river and laid him on the bank.
Coughing, the man gasped, “Are you crazy, old man? What are you trying to do, kill me?”
“When I was holding you under the river, what did you want more than anything else?” asked Socrates.
“I wanted to breathe. I wanted air!” he replied.
“Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking wisdom comes so easily, my young friend,” said Socrates. “When you want to learn as badly as you wanted air just now, then come to me again.”
Imagine a school where each child entered the building eager to transform knowledge into wisdom. Rather than having classrooms full of students who were simply absorbing information for the sake of accumulating knowledge, each child would consider the craft in which they can use these tools. Instead of students uttering the words, “Why do we need to learn this?”, they choose to say “How can I use what I’ve learned?”