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f you travel northwest from
Athens, on the road to Corinth,
you will come to the ruins of the once
great city of Delphi. Delphi is the place
once thought by the Greeks to be the
center of the world. Here, in the 6th
century B.C., the Oracle in the Temple
of Apollo, was at its busiest, as it was
called upon to dispense wisdom and to
give answers to some of the pressing
questions of the day. But, the Oracle of
the classical world was silent before the
age old questions like Who am I? Why
am I here? What should I be doing? and
Where am I going?
From the beginning of time man has
been trying to make sense of himself
and his world. He has been seeking
understanding. But as time marches on,
man isn't getting the understanding he
seeks, he isn't happier, and he hasn't
been able to conquer his own nature.
What's wrong? With all the great minds
and thinking that have gone before us,
with all the lessons of history left for us
to examine, it is difficult to imagine why
we aren't further along than we are. Why
are we asking the same questions in our
search for meaning, the Greeks were
asking 2600 years ago. Do we not yet
have enough information available to
We now live in a world where we are
inundated with more information, on a
daily basis, than we can possibly
process. It is an over-communicated
environment. There are so many
unwanted messages bombarding us, that
often the ones we want get lost in the
noise. The average person can now
communicate faster, with more people—
without thinking—than ever before.
Information has become disposable. It
doesn't matter whether you are
connected to the Internet or not. We get
hit with it at every turn. At work. At
home as we try to relax. And at all
points in between.
So what about it? What are we doing
with this information? Is all this
information really doing us any good?
Are we living happier lives? Are we
experiencing fewer problems? Are our
decisions better? Are we any wiser?
History tells us that we haven't learned
much in spite of all we know. The
situation changes, but the problems
remain the same. Clearly, we need to do
something better with all of this
T.S. Eliot posed the question: "Where is
the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in
information?" In a day and age where
the number one shows are sitcoms and
we commonly find best sellers written
by those on the fringe of society, we are
clearly in need of better thinking. We
Proverbs 4.5-7 The Bible has a lot to say about wisdom. In
Proverbs, a book devoted to wisdom, we are
told that wisdom is the principle thing.
Though it cost us all that we have, get
What is this elusive quality called wisdom?
Knowledge comes by taking
things apart: analysis.
But wisdom comes by putting things together.
– John A. Morrison
There's no inherent meaning in information—it's
what we do with that information that matters.
– Beau Lotto at TED 2009
How do we get it? First, let's begin by taking
a look at the four levels of thinking.
The first level is data—simple facts and
figures. Next we have information.
Information is data that's been collected and
organized. It is a reference tool. Something
we turn to when trying to create something
The third level is knowledge. This is
information that we have digested and now
understand. Organized as knowledge, the
information we have collected is given a
The fourth and final level is wisdom. Today,
wisdom has become for many,
indistinguishable from knowledge. But they
are two different things. Often, what we find
touted as wisdom is simply opinion.
Knowledge is not wisdom. There is a big
difference. Wisdom is the proper use of
knowledge. To be more precise, wisdom is
knowledge that has been applied in a way that
takes into account all its pertinent
relationships and that is consistent with
A glut of information can be a kind of Catch-
22. While it adds to our knowledge, it can be
a block to our wisdom. We can be so busy
trying to process more and more information,
that we don't have the time for the quiet
contemplation that is essential for the
development of wisdom. Without
contemplation, we lose perspective and can
lose our grounding. Without our bearings we
lose a sense of place. Confused, we are more
It is essential then, that we learn to let the
unwanted information we receive go in one
ear and out the other and to get the knowledge
we need, to stop somewhere in between. It is
interesting that armed with mountains of
information, we have turned arguing into a
national pastime. It seems one can always
provide more information to support a claim.
We begin to think might makes right—more
is better. In turn, relationships fracture as we
go off with our own tangential, myopic views.
We lose perspective.
Knowledge too, is a funny thing. It can
deceive us into thinking we are wise.
Knowledge alone is not wisdom. For
example, have you ever known someone who
is incredibly smart, maybe they get straight
A's in school, or maybe they have several
degrees, and yet their life is a complete mess?
Perhaps you know someone who is
sufficiently educated and yet they can't hold a
job, can't act on basic instructions, and they
seem to be constantly faced with a host of
problems. What's wrong? These people aren't
dumb. They don't seem to lack the necessary
information to be a success in life. Yet for
them, life is one struggle, one upset, after
another. Sadly, they lack wisdom. Many
people know a great deal but are all the more
foolish because of it. They have not yet
learned how to apply the knowledge they
have. For the successful conduct of life, mere
knowledge is not enough.
Common sense is the knack of seeing things as
they are and doing things as they ought to be
Sometimes we say that someone has
no common sense. Indeed, common sense is a
part of wisdom. Common sense is applying
knowledge to solve the everyday problems
common to all people in a way that is better
than that which might come naturally. As a
It is a thousand times better to have common
sense without education, than to have education
without common sense.
– Robert G. Ingersoll
society, in trying to create a law for every
situation, we have lost the perspective of the
principles common to a community of people.
We too can become so tightly focused that we
lose our ability to apply what we learn
generally to our own lives specifically. And
so we lack common sense.
Knowledge that doesn't take shape in deeds—
that doesn't apply itself to life—is trivia. If
you can't apply it, it's just knowledge for
knowledge sake; it's just something to get
intellectual about. Knowledge alone leads to
arrogance. This is not to undervalue
knowledge, but there must be some thinking
as to what are the ends of the knowledge
being attained, of the relationship of the
knowledge you are gaining to the conduct of
your life and to the life of those around you.
Why do you know what you know? And what
are you doing about it?
Knowledge alone does not result in clear
vision, a proper perspective, meaning, and the
right behavior. But when this transformation
does occur, we call it wisdom. How do we get
wisdom? How do we develop it and make it a
part of our lives?
He is happy in his wisdom who has learned at
Learn from the mistakes of others—you can't live
long enough to make them all yourself.
– Martin Vanbee
Fundamentally, it is important to understand
that wisdom is grounded in reality in two
ways. To connect with reality and develop
wisdom, we need to learn to be aware. Aware
of ourselves and aware of those around us.
We can learn from other people's success and
we can learn from their mistakes. From early
on, we have all been told that we should learn
from other people's mistakes. Yet we see
people in trouble all the time, but we forget to
learn from their mistakes. Every person you
come into contact with, good or bad, is for
Nothing is a waste of time if you use the
– Auguste Rodin
Good people are good because they've come to
wisdom through failure.
– William Saroyan
you, a lesson in living if you will only be
aware. You need to define where they are off
or what they are doing right and then
determine what that means for you.
Everything that you observe is a chance for
you to figure out what it means and what you
are supposed to do about it. When you see a
problem in life, yours or someone else's,
something is wrong. What is it you are
seeing? Figure it out. It is important that you
Second, if you know something works and
you don't do it, that's being disconnected from
reality. We Human Beings are the only living
things that can decide to disconnect ourselves
from reality. We are inclined to do what we
want and not what we know we should do.
We can, and often do, choose to live
according to what is unreasonable; what
makes no sense. We can do things in the same
old way and justify doing it. But, we are only
kidding ourselves. Living with reality takes
an effort on our part. But, it is essential that
we do the things that we know must be done
and stop doing those things we know we
shouldn't be doing.
Understand the law of Cause & Effect.
Things happen to us for a reason. We are the
sum total of the decisions we have made and
the actions we have taken to this point. When
you make a mistake, don't gloss over it. Take
a look at it. Seek to understand why you did it
and why it doesn't work, why it doesn't get
you the results you want. Articulate it. To
learn something is to be able to put it into
words. Then when you catch yourself doing
something that is counter productive,
something you know from observation
doesn't work, stop. Make one little change in
your life. Begin to practice what you learn in
order to create habits. If it is right, keep at it
whether you see immediate results or not. A
successful life is made up of a series of course
corrections. They all add up to create the
substance of your life.
We must learn to step back from any situation
and look at it objectively. It is helpful to take
the personalities out. Take out all of the
emotions and egos and determine the right
thing to do regardless of who is involved.
Then put the personalities back in and
proceed with what must be done. This is
living by principle and wisdom. It will help
you not compromise what is right and to live
consistent with universal laws.
Be proactive. This does not mean to be more
assertive.Proactiveness is not an attitude, but
is instead a product of our thinking that
comes from being connected to our own
behavior; by seeing how we contribute to our
own problems. It means to determine in
advance your response to any situation that
may come your way. Don't allow yourself to
just react to the stimulus of your environment.
Of course, it's hard to do this when you are in
the middle of an action. Your emotions are in
the way and your perspective is gone. It's
hard to stop and ask yourself, What am I
doing? This is why you must think through
the events in your life and think through to
the conclusion of the approach you are using.
If then, you don't like the results, change your
approach, before you're caught behaving in
way you'll wish you hadn't. A wise person
will think about situations he might become
involved in so that he might know in advance
how he will respond.
A prudent question is one-half of wisdom.
– Francis Bacon
To admit ignorance is to exhibit wisdom.
– Ashley Montagu
Very few men are wise by their own counsel, or
learned by their own teaching; for he that was
only taught by himself had a fool as his master
– Ben Jonson
A wise man gets more out of his enemies than a
fool gets out of his friends.
– Baltasar Gracian
Don't just get through a day. Absorb the day.
Make it a part of your life. You can't afford to
take an aimless approach to life. Take it
seriously. If you don't, no one else will. Pick
up on everything that is happening around
you. By asking yourself, What am I supposed
to be doing? How am I going to do it? and
When am I going to do something about it?
you avoid a lot of mistakes. When you start
thinking about your life, many problems
disappear. When you live perceptively, when
you get in touch with reality, and start doing
what you know is right, many problems
In 1677, the Dutch philosopher Spinoza,
suggested that wisdom is seeing things sub
specie eternitatis, that is, in view of eternity.
A foundational principle of wisdom is to have
a long term perspective; to see the big picture;
to look beyond the immediate situation. Of
course, an all encompassing, total perspective
is possessed only by God. Although it can
only be approached by humans, it is an ideal
we should seek.
To gain perspective, it is helpful to study
events and people throughout history. The
past is the sum of all we are today.
Understand it. Know why we are where we
are today. Napoleon said, "May my son study
history for it is the only true philosophy, the
only true psychology." Take time each day
with those who have left their lives for our
example. In time, it will broaden your
perspective and deepen your understanding.
You will gain many lifetimes of experience in
Walter Lippmann observed that "a boy can
take you into the open at night and show you
the stars; he might tell you no end of things
about them, conceivably all that an
astronomer could teach. But until and unless
he feels the vast indifference of the universe
to his own fate, and has placed himself in the
perspective of cold and illimitable space, he
has not looked maturely at the heavens. Until
he has felt this, and unless he can endure this,
he remains a child, and in his childishness, he
will resent the heavens when they are not
accommodating. He will demand sunshine
when he wishes to play, and rain when the
ground is dry, and he will look upon storms
as anger directed at him, and the thunder as a
personal threat." He may know knowledge
but he doesn't have wisdom. Wisdom places
us in our proper roles in relationship to
everything else around us and in so doing
helps us to develop emotional maturity.
Wisdom requires humility. You must be
teachable. If you are to put these things into
practice, you must be willing to take a look at
what you thought you knew about yourself
and the ideas you hold. It requires an outward
focus not a selfish one. Often people who
know a lot can't get past that fact and as a
result never gain insight into what they know.
A wise man never stops asking questions. He
realizes that what he knows is but a drop in a
sea of knowledge.
As we examine the results of our behavior
and learn from the experiences of others, and
conform to the laws common to every living
thing, we begin to create a yardstick to judge
what we know and the knowledge we come
into contact with. We can learn what is
acceptable. You are the only one that can gain
wisdom for yourself. No one can make you
wise or make you not wise. It's up to you.
Any time you see, hear, or experience a
lesson for better living, it's up to you to do
something about it. The job of living is to
make this decision. Put what you have
learned into practice or you will never be
Dare to be wise; begin!
He who postpones the hour of living rightly is like
the rustic who wants for the river to run out before
A philosopher by definition, is a lover of
wisdom. We should all be philosophers. You
can talk beautiful ideas, but if you don't put
them into action, it is as if you know nothing.
Ask yourself, what did I learn today? How
would I do it differently? and How do I
transfer this lesson to my own life? Then,
apply it. You then begin to live intelligently.
To live with understanding. To live with
meaning. To live with wisdom.