Wisdom vs knowledge is one of those age-old questions, right? You know, one of those things you ask yourself when you can’t sleep, or perhaps when you’re frustrated with how something is going or how someone is acting.
And there’s a reason for that: they’re different (though related) concepts that can have huge effects on your life, that of others, and even humanity as a whole. Let’s see how.
Wisdom vs Knowledge – What’s the Difference?
The first step to answering this question is to define each:
Definition of Knowledge
Essentially, knowledge is just the accumulation of facts in your head. Or to quote a dictionary definition, it’s “the range of one’s information or understanding” (Webster’s Dictionary).
The more facts you know, the more knowledge you have. Also, I’m defining “facts” loosely here, since both nonfiction and fiction can count as knowledge. For example, if you have memorized every team that has ever won the World Cup, that’s knowledge. By like token, if you know thousands of facts about the fictional Star Wars universe, that’s knowledge as well.
In sum, knowledge just means the accumulation of concepts, ideas, facts, and other information.
Definition of Wisdom
This is the heart of this discussion of wisdom vs knowledge. Again turning to the dictionary, here are three definitions from Webster’s:
- “Ability to discern inner qualities and relationships”;
- “Good sense”; and
- “A wise attitude, belief, or course of action”.
Ok, you might say, but what does that really mean?
A Practical Definition of Wisdom
To truly understand wisdom vs knowledge, we have to define wisdom in a more practical sense. Here’s a practical definition:
To be wise is to have knowledge, and be able to understand and apply it in an effective way.
Let’s unpack this.
First, you can’t have wisdom if you don’t have knowledge. Simple; you have nothing to work with. So, knowledge comes first – well before wisdom.
Once you have knowledge, you need to be able to understand it intelligently and make connections between concepts and ideas. Being able to parrot facts may show knowledge, but it doesn’t show wisdom.
For example, we all know that exercise is good for us. That’s knowledge. If you take that knowledge and put it together with planning skills you learned in school to make an exercise schedule, that’s wisdom. If you then actually do the workouts and adjust them over time to get fit, that’s even more wisdom.
Examples of Wisdom vs Knowledge
In my experience, knowledge is fairly common but wisdom is rare – most people just want to be told what to do and to have a feeling of safety and security. And most will sacrifice the long-term for the short-term, being “penny wise and pound foolish”.
Here are some real-life examples of wisdom vs knowledge:
- Knowing how to drive a car and follow traffic laws, but failing to actually do so and causing an accident.
- Constantly giving in to harmful impulses despite knowing that they’re harmful.
- Buying stuff you can’t afford to “keep up with the Joneses”, all while knowingly sacrificing your family’s financial health.
The Biggest Obstacle to Wisdom is Usually Overcoming Your Emotions
To acquire and act with wisdom, you’ll often need to overrule your own emotions and act in a way that you know will be better for you in the long term. For example:
- Avoiding tempting relationships that will be more trouble than they’re worth.
- Forcing yourself to work and study, even when you’d much rather be doing something else.
- Controlling your anxiety and avoiding erratic behavior.
Put a different way, a large part of wisdom is learning how to control yourself, and then implementing that knowledge. A simple example would be learning how to meditate, and then actually meditating and using that to help you work through your feelings and control your impulses.
Truly Understanding Wisdom vs Knowledge Means to Always Seek Wisdom
Hey, I’m far from perfect. What I do try to do, though, is to always improve and gain wisdom. In that way, I become a better and more effective person over time. Here are some quick tips to become wiser:
- Consider yourself always a student, and try to learn as much as possible.
- Read every day – both stuff that you agree with and stuff you don’t. Get different perspectives and constantly challenge your beliefs.
- Try to learn from everyone you meet, even if they’re examples of what not to do.
- Recognize when you’re wrong, and change how you handle things in order to improve.
Here’s a video on wisdom:
Summing Up Wisdom vs Knowledge
Knowledge is just the accumulation of information, while wisdom is the ability to effectively understand and apply that information. You can have knowledge without wisdom, but not wisdom without knowledge.
In my view and experience, wisdom is one of the most important things in life and something that will truly differentiate you and make you unique. Anyone can memorize an essay, a song, or even an entire book. Understanding it is a completely different matter, and something far fewer can do.
I leave you with one of my favorite quotes:
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, not look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books. You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me, you shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself.
― Walt Whitman, Song of Myself (bold added).
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