Knowledge, Understanding and Wisdom

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.


24 thoughts on “Knowledge, Understanding and Wisdom

  1. Murphy's Law

    Beautifully written Pam. And you got right to the core….instinct. I think instinct is the one factor that takes us down the road less travelled. That’s a journey we all should take once in a while.

    Love your painting. It’s the picture version of what you’re saying. And the sketch of the elephant is wonderful. I just love these gentle giants!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Dan Antion

    Very well said, Pam.

    One of the wisest people I’ve ever know was my paternal grandmother. She had no formal education, she barely had a command of English, but she had an innate ability to know what was right and necessary. I wish I could under the world as she did.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Mark Lanesbury

    Wise words dear lady, it is like the feeling of love. Instinct. Like that very first time, you’ve heard about it but don’t know what all the fuss is about. But oh the magic in its feeling when you do, and you just can’t quite ever explain it truly, for it seems to be a part of everything we are…and it is there waiting for us to dare to step into it each and every time. Shoot, it bites us, regularly, and we still go there ❤️ 😂 🤣

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sorryless

    What? But . . but . . but . . . so many of us humans LOVE to brag about our smarts . . about all the smart stuff we have stuffed up in our big smart heads! What is the use of wisdom if you can’t bumper sticker it for all the world to see. What possible gain can an individual hope to achieve if . . . oh . . Ooohhhhh! Yeah. Too bad more humans don’t understand, eh?

    PS- I LOVE the word sagacity. It’s an all time favorite of mine.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. rangewriter

    Well said. One of the richest men in Idaho, (now deceased) grew up dirt poor and quit school after the eighth grade. But he knew how to take advantage of a situation, how to fill a need, and then how to fill that need as efficiently as possible. He was also unafraid to gamble everything he had on something new, because after all, he came from poverty. He made his fortune in dehydrated potatoes that went into WWII soldier’s field meals. After the war, he tinkered with taters till he developed the perfect French fry and became the exclusive potato supplier to McDonalds. Along the way he got into fertilizers and a host of other byproducts and new products. Toward the end of his life, he invested in chips–the silicone type that go into computers. He may have quadrupled his fortune in that venture. He was a wise man.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. quiall Post author

      Sorry I missed replying to this comment! I do feel bad about it. But you highlight exactly what I believe: we don’t need education to be wise. Like so many things it helps but it is not the be-all end-all there’s more to it. He sounds like a fascinating man.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. rangewriter

        Haha. Yes, I think he is. His name is plastered all over things around here. A lot of folks disparage him because he was a very rich man. Within the Fortune 500. However, he contributed so much of his wealth to the state of Idaho, that I prefer to remember him for what he made of himself and how he gave back to his community. (Yeah, yeah, even if those were tax write-offs.)

        Liked by 1 person

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