At a recent doctor’s appointment, the nurse and I were discussing her daughter’s job – working at a doggie day care. As Sarah had worked at a very nice boarding and grooming kennel for a few years, I asked if the girl was enjoying her job. “NO!” came the emphatic reply. The nurse, a wise and wonderful woman, went on to say that her daughter, who graduated from college with an Art degree, had “finally” decided to take a few business classes this semester. “Finally” because both her parents had suggested (more than once) that, while it’s a wonderful thing to follow your bliss, you still have to eat. Lee was grateful that her daughter had “finally listened”, but I suspect something other than parental advice had brought about this turn of events – I suspect it was wisdom.
The world is filled with intelligent people (contrary to what I see displayed nearly daily either on the roads or in Wal Mart), but wisdom is a scarcer commodity. Dictionary.com (my online replacement for Funk and Wagnell’s) describes wisdom as: “the quality or state of being wise; knowledge of what istrue or right coupled with just judgment as to action; sagacity, discernment, or insight.” Intelligence is a slightly different kettle of fish: “capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity; aptitude in grasping truths, relationships, facts, meanings, etc.” The real difference between the two? The phrase “coupled with just judgement as to action”. In my mind, I simplify it by thinking of intelligence as “book learning capacity” and wisdom as having learned something experientially from the school of life.
Admittedly, not everyone who has experienced things through the school of life actually learns anything, but everything from archetypical folk tales to sayings your grandma used to quote reflect the importance of wisdom. “Once bitten, twice shy” is a perfect example. You can be warned about a situation over and over, but have that situation cause you direct pain and you’re going to be much more likely to use that pain to shape your judgement of similar situations in the future. And who ever heard of a hero’s journey that didn’t involve using experience, and not just “book learning” to get the job done. Whether slaying the dragon or rescuing the maiden, each part of the tale is based on what our hero learned in the preceding trials. Those archetypical tales didn’t just pop into someone’s mind one day to be scribbled on the back of a napkin and sent off to a publisher – stories such as these originated not just to entertain, but to teach. While I’m a huge fan of acquiring knowledge, (I’m always looking for, and finding, new things to learn), I also believe that too many people deify intelligence at the expense of wisdom.
In many other cultures, elders are held in great esteem. They are looked to for advice, and the wisdom they have acquired over their long lifetimes is passed along and respected. Even shamans and medicine men (and women) rely much more on wisdom than “book learning”. With our current medical system consisting of specialists for every organ and system in our bodies, there’s a whole lot of intelligence; but I must say I’m incredibly grateful that my doc, who practices Family Medicine, has a ton of wisdom to go along with his incredible intelligence. Same for my vet – it’s nice to have a horse doc who actually has some “horse sense” and not just all the latest diagnostic tools at his disposal. Please understand that I’m not saying that using an ultrasound, or radiograph or nuclear scintigraphy is a bad thing – I just think it’s better when it’s coupled with the “sagacity, discernment or insight” that comes from life and not just med school or vet school.
As I said to my nurse the other day while we were discussing her daughter, “Advice and knowledge can be handed down, but wisdom has to be earned on one’s own.”