From the moment we are born we are always attempting to acquire knowledge. Not consciously, not intellectually. We’re really not much more than a bag of mostly water and important icky bits but we have instincts. We learn how to eat; we learn where there is warmth and what pleases us. We also learn how to manipulate. Some children learn that really, really well.
As we grow, so does our ability to appreciate knowledge and our instincts begin to wane. Learning becomes more formalized and our ability to understand begins to emerge. Knowledge, however, does not equate to understanding. Let me explain my thought process:
I have never performed an appendectomy. The knowledge is available. There are plenty of books and videos that will explain in detail the process by which someone removes an appendix. I could gain that knowledge. I could memorize the steps and processes involved but I would never truly understand. The missing component is experience. Books cannot teach me what it feels like to put a scalpel onto human flesh. It cannot make me appreciate the smell as blood rolls down my hand. I might know what is behind the skin but I cannot fully appreciate it if I have not experienced it. So, I do not have any proper understanding of how to perform an appendectomy.
I once knew a successful businessman with a grade 8 education. He had knowledge about what his job required and the understanding of how it worked and I also think he had the wisdom to realize what he didn’t know and where he needed to go get the information he needed. Knowledge does not equate to understanding nor does that equate to wisdom. Wisdom is the great intangible. I have known people with little formal education but with a great deal of understanding of the world and the wisdom to appreciate it. I have also known people with an abundance of education, several degrees and they are as wise as a bag of dirt.
The oh so clever Wikipedia says: Wisdom, sapience, or sagacity is the ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense and insight. Wisdom is associated with attributes such as unbiased judgment, compassion, experiential self-knowledge, self-transcendence and non-attachment, and virtues such as ethics and benevolence.
While I’m sure that description is meant to pertain to human beings, I happen to believe that the animal world also shares moments of wisdom. Or perhaps I’m just anthropomorphizing. I’m thinking of the matriarch of an elephant herd. She has the ability to lead her clan year after year, finding the best water holes, anticipating danger and openly caring for each other. Their journey to wisdom requires knowledge and understanding but it also makes use of instinct. Something that has been bred out of human beings, for the most part.
Wisdom is so much more than the sum of its parts. It requires knowledge and understanding and compassion and experience and so much more. It is not something you can buy or learn; it is a consequence of all of it, of life.
Wisdom is something we should aspire to not brag about. I believe it is in all of us if we would just believe.