Knowledge vs Wisdom: What’s the Difference, and Why Does It Matter?
The opinion that acquiring knowledge is important to our society is evident when we consider the emphasis placed on education. Yet, does all this learning equate to true wisdom? And if not, does it matter? For most, the answer is largely dependent on our background and cultural norms, but people usually have a strong opinion on the difference between knowledge and wisdom.
Many people think of wisdom as something you can't learn in school. It's most often associated with age, as if living more years ensures that you'll learn some greater lessons from life. Knowledge is sometimes viewed as the process of accumulating information, facts and theories that don't apply to daily life in a practical way.
To understand the difference between knowledge and wisdom, it’s helpful to look for a hard definition, and compare and contrast the characteristics of each.
Defining Knowledge And Wisdom
Knowledge is defined as “information, understanding, or skill that you get from experience or education.” Putting context to facts is necessary to have knowledge of a subject. If you're knowledgeable, you can arrange the facts coherently in your mind and establish conclusions based on what you know. You may understand the theories of others, and you may be able to come up with your own well-reasoned theories, too. In short, knowledge is the understanding of a subject.
Wisdom’s definition is somewhat more nuanced and reads more like an explanation from different people than an absolute definition. According to the Britannica dictionary, wisdom is- “knowledge that is gained by having many experiences in life, the natural ability to understand things that most other people cannot understand, knowledge of what is proper or reasonable, and good sense or judgment” It is prudent to note that according to most definitions, one cannot have wisdom without knowledge.
Philosophers, writers, and artists of all kinds have weighed in on the meaning of wisdom since ancient times. For example, Plato's work about wisdom has been scrutinized since the times of Ancient Greece. Plato suggests that wise people know that they don't know everything. Some have interpreted this as knowing that you know nothing, or at least very little, makes you wise. Others have suggested that wisdom is being confident only in subjects in which you have justifiable reasons to believe you're an expert.
What Factors Are Important for Wisdom?
The reasons we must acquire knowledge are many, and relatively transparent. We must have knowledge of grammar to read, numbers to calculate figures, and language to communicate with others. But the things that make wisdom important in our lives are often from person to person and can change with time and circumstances. Here are a few common ways that wisdom aids us in daily life:
Knowing How to Live Well
Regardless of what living well looks like to you, it takes wisdom to discover the unique things that give us quality of life. One person may believe that having many social relationships is the path to greater happiness, and for them, that might be true. Others may believe that it's more important to be happy in solitude, and that might work for them, too. While what is wise for you may not be wise from someone else, there may be beliefs about quality of life that that most wise people agree about. For example, most wise people would likely agree that we need happiness to show us our own definition of living well.
Succeeding At Living Well
Knowing what would make you happy doesn’t always translate to living that way. Some theorists suggest that knowing isn't enough- we also need to put that knowledge into practice and have the wisdom to use it in order to successfully make ourselves happy.
Having Very Few Unjustified Beliefs
Sometimes, humans choose to ignore facts and believe what suits them, despite knowing that there are no facts to back up their beliefs. Yet, beliefs without supporting evidence don't add up to wisdom. In fact, they don't even add up to knowledge. They represent a turning away from whatever truth might exist in the world.
Knowing How To Live Rationally
Some recent theorists suggest that wisdom has nothing to do with being humble enough to say you don't know everything. They say it doesn't matter whether you live a happy life. Instead, what matters is that you live in a rational way. Being rational includes being aware of facts and using them to construct beliefs based on accuracy and sound judgment.
Some people who discuss wisdom believe that it needs a moral element. For them, the primary markers of wisdom include intelligence and morality, and it’s only when we apply the two that true wisdom can be fully realized.
If there's no practical purpose for knowledge, can that knowledge be considered wisdom? Many theorists suggest that learning facts and theories doesn't make you any wiser at all. Other theorists deny that practicality is an issue, claiming that all knowledge adds to that broad understanding that they call wisdom.
The Importance Of Wisdom
There are many reasons why wisdom is crucial not only to each person but to the society as well. Here are some of the ways wisdom can benefit you, people you know, and the world at large:
For some, the advancement of technology has stirred a major debate about the true meaning of progress. Many contend that scientific knowledge without wisdom to accompany it can lead to destruction. Consider the development of atomic weapons. This wouldn't have happened without extensive, highly technical knowledge. Yet, how wise was it to pursue that path?
Another example comes from the burgeoning robotics industry. It takes an incredible amount of knowledge to build an advanced robot that can take over the job of a skilled worker. Yet, if we don’t have the wisdom to consider the needs of replaced workers when pushing towards robotic advancement, the world may end up with many people who can't meet their most basic needs.
Because of situations like these, wisdom is more important today than ever before.
Becoming knowledgeable requires you to learn facts. You can be knowledgeable in one subject area that interests you or learn many subject areas. Learning can add great value to your life. It can increase your self-confidence, keep you interested and engaged in the world around you, contribute to your personal success, and help you get along well with others.
Typical ways of learning include taking classes at schools, universities, or online. You can learn through various types of hands-on training. You can learn through volunteer experiences or at work. Talking to a mentor is a wonderful way of gaining insider knowledge, as well. Opportunities to gain knowledge are plentiful if you seek them out.
Becoming wiser is a little less straightforward than gaining knowledge. Here are some techniques to try:
Gain balance by considering many aspects of one situation at the same time.
Pay attention to the environment you're in and notice how it's changing.
Step back and look at the situation from a different perspective.
Consider the ways others are different from you.
Turn your knowledge into action.
Accept that you can never know all there is to know.
Difficult situations often teach us lessons we can't learn from a book, and if we aren't prepared for those challenging circumstances, we may learn the wrong lesson. For example, without a mentor to support us through the most trying times, we likely won’t know how to put our difficult feelings into perspective. This may affect how we cognitively interpret information, leading to thoughts and behaviors that negatively affect us in daily life.
If you're facing something that seems too overwhelming to cope with on your own, it may help to speak to a professional. Many people use therapy to develop new, more helpful ways to look at life’s problems and change the way they think about themselves, others, and the world. In essence, people often gain wisdom from therapy.
Despite its benefits, many people decline to seek therapy. Some may feel deterred by stigma, others may have difficulty accessing a therapist in their area. Other people feel that therapy isn’t worth it because they think it’s too expensive or time consuming. Online therapy provides an excellent solution for these obstacles and more.
Platforms like BetterHelp match individuals with licensed, accredited online counselors experienced in helping people with a wide range of mental health and quality of life concerns. Online counseling is as effective and more convenient than in person therapy and is often more affordable than traditional therapy without insurance. You can book sessions at your convenience from the comfort of home via text, video chat, online messaging, or phone.
You may only need a few sessions to get you past your current difficulties, or you may need longer if you're experiencing symptoms of depression that can come with struggling to cope with life’s larger difficulties. Regardless of your circumstances, there's no reason to go through it alone when you need someone to listen and guide you to a better life. One more aspect of wisdom is knowing when you need help.
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