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How often do you seek wisdom?


Today is July 3 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you seek wisdom?” Albert Einstein’s observed: “Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.” Navigating the chaos requires one to understand both the definition of wisdom as well as the difference between that and knowledge. Schooling, reading, and studying can help one accumulate knowledge; whereas reflection, experience, and intention can help one acquire wisdom. Defining each word would be an important place to start.


The definition of knowledge, for example, involves the accumulation of facts, data, and information about a topic, event, or person. Detectives trying to solve a crime often go to great pains to acquire as much knowledge as possible. Compiling knowledge can be acquired over a period of time by researching, studying, investigating, observing, or experiencing the information. Wisdom, however, is often defined as understanding how to translate knowledge into actionable intelligence and apply it in a way that adds meaning to life. Wisdom requires a deep sense of reflection, an open mind to think about the knowledge, and a dedication to agility when it comes to application. In short, making good choices is often based on wisdom, which is a combination of knowledge coupled with experience, time, and reflection.


Using these definitions as a starting point, it would be a disservice to suggest that only those with a college degree possess knowledge because anyone with the ability to compile information can do so. Thus, the belief that old people are wise also short changes anyone, regardless of age, who puts in the time required to reflect upon knowledge in order to curate wisdom.


In his April 15, 2021, New York Times article "Wisdom Isn't What You Think It Is" columnist David Brooks discussed this difference between wisdom and knowledge. Brooks noted “Wisdom is different from knowledge. Montaigne pointed out you can be knowledgeable with another person’s knowledge, but you can’t be wise with another person’s wisdom. Wisdom has an embodied moral element; out of your own moments of suffering comes a compassionate regard for the frailty of others.”


Thus, leveraging your mind, body, and spirit requires an understanding, appreciation, and recognition that one cannot be wise with another person’s wisdom. Acquiring wisdom is your personal responsibility. You can seek it from others; but in the end, only you will decide how wise you are. Those who navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well often understand this.


Throughout history fictional and non-fictional characters have conveyed their wisdom in the form of inspirational quotes. One of the most famous fictional characters espousing wisdom is Yoda from the Star Wars universe, first appearing in the 1980 film The Empire Strikes Back. He is a small, green humanoid alien who is powerful with the Force and served as Grandmaster of the Jedi Order. Here are four elements of Yoda’s wisdom:

  • “Always with you what cannot be done. Hear you nothing that I say?…You must unlearn what you have learned. Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

  • “Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.”

  • “Your path you must decide.”

  • “The fear of loss is a path to the dark side. Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed that is. Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.”

An often-quoted real-life character quoted for wisdom is the Dalai Lama - a title given by the Tibetan people to the foremost spiritual leader of the Gelug or "Yellow Hat" school of Tibetan Buddhism. The 14th and current Dalai Lama is Tenzin Gyatso, who lives as a refugee in India. Here are four elements of the Dalai Lama’s wisdom:

  • “We live and we die, this is the truth that we can only face alone. No one can help us, not even the Buddha. So, consider carefully, what prevents you from living the way you want to live your life?”

  • “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”

  • “Remember sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.”

  • “We have to make a sustained effort, again and again, to cultivate the positive aspects within us.”

The wisdom pronounced from Yoda and the Dalai Lama, however, can only be learned from living. One can read all the wise statements available but without reflection, experience, and intention it would be difficult to acquire such wisdom firsthand. As you reflect upon today’s post, here are some questions to consider:

  • How often are you seeking wisdom?

  • How often do you mistake knowledge for wisdom?

  • Do you possess the personal fortitude to acquire wisdom?

  • Do you understand how you can be knowledgeable with another person’s knowledge, but not wise with another person’s wisdom?

  • What are you in need of today: knowledge or wisdom?

  • Do you have people in your life who are wise? If so, how do you know they are wise?

  • Who or what is preventing you from acquiring additional wisdom or knowledge?