In the last few years, with nothing better to do than ponder such questions, I’ve begun to consider the difference between knowledge and wisdom. When I was younger I used these words interchangeably – and still do to some extent. Experience and mistakes have finally begun teaching me how different these two words are – well for me at least.
I’ve decided that my definitions of knowledge and wisdom are as follows: Knowledge is the information we acquire through study, learning and life experience. Wisdom is knowing how, where and when to apply that knowledge. A great example of this is seen in an episode of The Big Bang Theory. Our favorite nerds are in Leonard’s car on their way to smite one Todd Zarnecki for stealing Sheldon’s virtual treasure. On the way Leonard’s car breaks down. He asks the car filled with “geniuses” if anyone knows anything about internal combustion engines. They all respond in the affirmative. Then he asks if any of them know how to fix an internal combustion engine and they all say “No”. They have the knowledge but not the wisdom needed for this situation.
In many ways it’s part of the maturation process. I still remember 20-something me starting at my new job. I was filled with confidence (well over-confidence really) and sure that I could fix everything that was wrong at this place if they were only smart enough to listen to me. I knew it all (except how and when to keep my mouth shut – still quite a problem in fact). Thankfully I was lucky enough to have a few supervisors who took a shine to me and showed me a thing or two. They helped me become a bit more thoughtful and less cocky. Within a few years I was one of the “old-timers” who groaned at the arrogance and ignorance of the newbies – exhibiting the same cockiness I once did.
A poem about a owl always stuck with me since childhood “The wise old owl lived in an oak. The more he saw, the less he spoke. The less he spoke, the more he heard. Why can’t we be like that wise old bird?” This owl has become an object lesson and inspiration for me. I hope to some day become wise enough to shut the hell up. It’s still a work in progress but at least I’ve become more conscious of it now.