“Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.” Jimi Hendrix, an American rock guitarist, singer, and songwriter, was the man to voice this mind-boggling thought out loud. It can be termed as nothing less than an incredible bit of insight.
Although it sounds very melodious and aesthetically pleasing to the usual layman’s ear, it will actually take more than just a few spare moments and certainly a lot of serious thought to contemplate and understand the phrase.
A lot of people assume that knowledge and wisdom are synonymous words. This is a completely false assumption. In a way, knowledge comes under what wisdom defines, but the reverse is not true at all.
Thus, to begin with, let us understand exactly what comprises of knowledge, what comprises of wisdom and the difference between the two. There is not a very big difference of course, in fact, the line between the two is very thin and subtle, but it still cannot be ignored or missed.
What is knowledge?
Knowledge is such a broad, wide field, comprising of such a vast array of subjects under it, that there is a whole field of study dedicated solely to understanding what knowledge is. It is called Cognitive Science, a contemporary field whose objective is to study knowledge, its components, its development and its uses, as mentioned in a research paper written by Gardener in 1985.
If we have to put a definition to it, we could claim it is the awareness or understanding of facts, information and skills, that can be acquired either by education, that is to say, theoretical knowledge, or personal experiences, that is to say, practical knowledge. It could also include familiarity with different objects or basically any fact of learning that is gained, known and remembered through association with others.
In either of the two types of knowledge, the problem with it is the event of unnecessary and sometimes, unwanted or unwelcome, sharing. I am sure you have come across people with loads of knowledge like this, people who can and will pipe up at any given time, listing out facts, experiences or opinions about any topic in conversation at the slightest, or maybe without even the slightest, inclination.
These people are often found annoying and are called by the term “know it all”, although they do not mean any harm. They are simply trying to share their knowledge with others, maybe to help make a better or more educated world.
While this sentiment is definitely one that should be appreciated, it is never fun to be fired with supposedly interesting facts at any point of time. It often has the effect of making one feel like a loser for not knowing more information oneself.
Sometimes, knowledgeable people do not even understand or realise that they are making a conversation awkward by sprouting out unknown facts, or that they are making a nuisance of themselves. On other occasions, they do it on purpose, to proclaim and display how intelligent they are. I cannot emphasize enough on the fact that both these types of people are equally irritating.
What is wisdom?
“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest. Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” This quote, voiced out by Confucius, who was a Chinese philosopher and politician, seems to sum up what wisdom really is in just a couple of words.
Yet, the whole concept of wisdom is so wide that one cannot completely explain it in even a hundred thousand words. Again, if we have to define it, we can compare it to being the quality of knowledge, self-transcendence and insight. It includes the possession of virtues of benevolence, generosity and true understanding.
The dictionary has a slightly different definition to it, although they both stem from the same thought process. It defines wisdom as “the ability to discern or judge what is true, right, or lasting.” In addition, almost all religious books have several chapters dedicated to the meaning and importance of genuine wisdom and profound thought.
Wisdom too, like knowledge, has an entire field of study devoted to it, which is the popular subject of philosophy. In fact, Aristotle had gone so far as to define philosophy as the “love of wisdom”. Even the scientific name given to humans is Homo sapiens, which literally translates, maybe a little unjustly, to “Wise Man”. Hence, we can say truthfully that wisdom is the application of knowledge.
The thing about wisdom is that, it does not seek to be spread, shared or heard. Instead, it seeks to comfort, to understand, to guide and to console.
You will never see a wise man bursting about with facts to share aloud. In fact, when you come across a person who displays brevity and quietness, a person who can control their minds as well as their mouths, who do not let their thoughts run free, although that does not imply a lack of creativity or imagination, you can feel the wisdom radiating out of that person. This is because wise people are very often at peace with themselves. They do not feel the urge to prove their intelligence to other people.
The difference between knowledge and wisdom
The difference between knowledge and wisdom, although not very big, is still definite enough to be noticed. If the definitions have not made it clear already, let us try to understand it through this little story about two girls in a classroom. The first one was named Aruna and the other was called Aadhya.
Both of them were very intelligent, both of them had truckloads of information embedded in every nook and corner of their brains. But there were observable differences between the two. Aadhya would never stop blabbering about what she had studied the previous day, whereas Aruna would always sit in a corner, engrossed in a book.
While the teacher was teaching, Aadhya would interrupt her with external facts, while Aruna would sit quietly with a notebook, checking her facts and making a note of any information that she had not heard of before.
By yourself, you can point out and understand which of them was knowledgeable and which of them was wise… Maybe you can even identify yourself as either Aruna or Aadhya.
Knowledge is wisdom in one way, but wisdom can never be considered to be the same thing as knowledge. If it was, then all and any graduated schooling student of the 21st century, who has achieved more than ninety percent in their examinations, and these days there are thousands who do, they would all be wiser than philosophers like Socrates, Aristotle or Descartes.
In a way, the deciding factor between knowledge and wisdom is the cultural values one is taught and one harbours as a child. The western culture has been, since the very beginning, focusing on knowledge and facts and have had arguments in the philosophical and scientific communities on the way of life.
But on the other hand, the Eastern side, especially the Japanese culture, have been taught values of collectiveness and not those of individuality. They have learned values of reflection and their culture possess concepts that help one be aware of oneself. So the western culture has philosophy that speaks and argues, but the Eastern side has philosophy that listens, that listens to even silence, a philosophy that listens to the storm within oneself.
“Knowledge is power? No. Knowledge on its own is nothing, but the application of useful knowledge, now that is powerful.” This was said by Rob Liano, who was a best-selling author, a certified life coach and a business coach. Seeing as we have already established that wisdom is the application of knowledge, we can successfully say that this quote rings true.