I’m surrounded by a lot of smart people. Actually, I’m surrounded by all smart people.
It’s one big pool of intelligence.
We talk about being smart, we revel in the smartness of other people, and we get defeated when we feel like we’re not as smart as everyone else.
But in all this talk, we never mention wisdom, or compare the wisdom of different people, or really ever differentiate wisdom and intelligence.
Intelligence is acquiring information. It’s quick understanding and application. Intelligence is curiosity. Intelligence is an ability to synthesize information, to deeply understand concepts.
Wisdom is having good judgment.
You can have all the intelligence in the world, but if you don’t have the wisdom to judge when, where, and how to use that intelligence, then you’re not going to go very far.
Yes, it’s great to know every bit of history of the United States and the world. Yeah, it’s cool to take math that doesn’t even have numbers. And knowing trivial facts would make for some interesting conversations.
But what about knowing how to solve a problem, how to be there for a suffering friend, how to prioritize, empathize and sympathize, to stick to a personal set of morals, to be able to give and receive advice, to be helpful, respectful, and tolerant?
What about knowing when to say no, how to accept failure, when to apologize, when to admit you’re wrong, how to ask for help?
What about challenging an idea, fighting for justice, reflecting on experiences?
These all take wisdom.
School judges your intelligence. But it rarely judges your wisdom. And it’s such an important distinction.
That’s why some of the best people made the worst grades in school.
That’s why some of the best students make terrible decisions.
That’s why some of the most intelligent people can’t be emotionally present.
We need a combination of both. And the beautiful thing about wisdom is that, unlike intelligence, no biased test can tell you that you’re inferior or not as good as anyone else. You alone create your wisdom. You have the responsibility to make your own choices, to love others, to accept failure, to be helpful, respectful and tolerant. Wisdom isn’t something you have or you don’t. It’s not something where no matter how hard you try you just can’t get it.
No, wisdom is a choice. Wisdom is an active choice to discern. Wisdom is an active choice to be fully present in the world, to live life in a productive, positive way. Wisdom is not intelligence.
So stop focusing on your intelligence. You’re smart, anyway. And start focusing on your wisdom. Because wisdom is what will make you a good friend. Wisdom is what will help you make good decisions. Wisdom is what will take you far.