Wisdom is defined as “making practical applications of truth in daily decisions,” or you may have heard it this way, “Knowledge is information; applying knowledge to live well is wisdom.”
If you Google search “the wisest person who ever lived,” you will be directed to the 10th Century B.C. Israelite King, Solomon. His collective wisdom is revered by three major world religions that hold the Old Testament as one of their holy books, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
King Solomon’s collection of wisdom in the book of Proverbs includes such sayings as “Joyful is the person who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding” (Proverbs 3:13); “Wisdom is supreme – so get wisdom.” (4:7); “Fear of the LORD is the foundation of wisdom.” (9:10); “Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” (11:2); “Fear of the LORD teaches wisdom; humility precedes honor.” (15:33); and “How much better to get wisdom than gold, and good judgment than silver!” (16:16).
So first, Solomon’s prerequisite for wisdom is “Fear of the Lord.” Though this short Hebrew phrase encompasses great meaning, at the very least, it is recognition that “I’m not God; I clearly don’t have ALL the answers.” That doesn’t seem too difficult to acknowledge.
And second, Solomon’s words connect humility to wisdom. You may be familiar with the “4 Stages of Learning”: 1) Unconscious Incompetence, 2) Conscious Incompetence, 3) Conscious Competence, and 4) Unconscious Competence. It’s the transition from the first to the second stage, Conscious Incompetence, which is paramount to gaining wisdom; some refer to it as “Knowing what you don’t know.”
You see, if “I know what I don’t know,” I know there is vast knowledge on many subjects that I can’t possibly hope to attain. Socrates said it this way, “I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.” While that takes the point to an extreme, his emphasis is clear. If I have depth of knowledge in any one area, it helps me to understand that if my own subject of expertise is so very complex, there is an infinite amount of knowledge in a multitude of areas I can’t possibly begin to comprehend.
We live in a time when it seems everyone knows a great deal about everything. However, a wise person in humility recognizes what he or she does not know and appreciates others’ contributions and seeks others’ perspectives.
Beware when you think yourself wise enough to ignore others. I once had a boss who had a name for the arrogance and pride that go with a “know-it-all” attitude; he called it “Architect’s Syndrome.” With apologies to architects everywhere, you could easily call it doctor’s syndrome, or engineer’s syndrome, or maybe city manager’s syndrome. There’s actually a name for it, competency extrapolation – and it works like this, “I know a great deal about this, so I know a great deal about many other thing too.” Or you could simply call it self-deception. Whatever you call it, it is never wise to assume we know more than others, much less, think ourselves to be experts in a given field we’ve never studied. Usually, the wisest course is to recognize what we don’t know.
Let me give you an example that is really “close to home,” both to make the point, and in how this plays out in our lives: We all know (have knowledge) that it is unwise to assume…yet, we do it every day, all the time without even realizing it… We assume we know the motivation behind a comment… We assume we know what others are thinking…We assume he or she doesn’t like me… We assume we know more than others… We assume we know best…and so on.
We have knowledge; we know we shouldn’t assume we know something without any real evidence, but we don’t apply that knowledge and in so doing exercise wisdom. We know we shouldn’t assume, but we do it anyway.
Knowledge is knowing we shouldn’t assume, but wisdom is applying it by deciding NOT to make unfounded assumptions, NOT to jump to conclusions without facts or any real evidence.
It takes more than knowledge and more than intelligence to learn from others and get wisdom. It takes humility to accept that others might know something I don’t know. It takes humility to change something I’m doing or thinking because I trust someone else’s perspective, even if I can’t see exactly what they are saying.
Again, usually the wisest course is to recognize what we don’t know. We also need to examine and know that there are many things WE THINK WE KNOW, but WE DON’T, that there simply are no facts; there is no evidence, we have no real reason to believe something. We’ve all been victims of accusations, insinuations, and allegations with no evidence whatsoever to back them up.
To get wisdom, We have to decide it’s OK to recognize what we really DON’T KNOW!
Let me give you one last example of how we think we know something when we don’t:
After college, I completed 70 hours of graduate work in theology at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. One of THE central events in the life of THE central figure of my study revolves around the song, “Away in a Manger.” Of course I’m talking about the first Christmas, the birth of Christ. Like most of you, I grew up in America; I heard the song; I know the story, BUT…and I’m a little embarrassed to admit this…Until last year, I didn’t know what a “manger” was. From childhood I thought (I assumed) the manger was the field or meadow at the edge of Bethlehem, next to the inn where there was no room; that it was the field or meadow where the stable was found…NOT the feed trough, the box in which the baby Jesus was laid…
Very humbling… If I didn’t know that, what else was I missing?
I’ve said over the years, “We all have ‘holes’ in our past”, by that meaning bits and pieces of “common knowledge” that personally, for some reason, we just never “got.” These gaps in learning or experience can be very humbling, but in that humility we learn we don’t know as much as we think we know and knowing what we don’t know, we are qualified and able to get wisdom and getting wisdom is a really good thing.