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Maxim Monday: Long for wisdom

This one is easy. Long for wisdom? I’ve been yearning for it my whole life. Actually, I yearned for knowledge, confusing the two. When I was 11 wisdom and knowledge seemed like the same things. I distinctly remember spending hours looking through a family friend’s college viewbooks (remember those? from before the internet?). By 12 I had decided that I wanted to go to Bowdoin college in Maine and eventually get a PhD so I could be the smartest girl in the world.

I still privilege knowledge. I crave knowledge. I love learning things. I love reading. I love learning about the world and people. Just writing about this and remembering how I felt at 12 rekindles that giddy excitement of all the unopened books awaiting to be read, of an atlas with paths waiting to be mapped out.

At this point in my life I feel content with my ability to learn. The single best skill I have is the ability to learn. Public school assisted me, but certainly didn’t teach me how to learn. Innate curiosity, fed with determination, is what powered this B+ student through 23 years of schooling.

I’m only really beginning to understand the difference between wisdom and knowledge. Knowledge is facts. Wisdom is the application of knowledge and experience. Sometimes I notice that small children, with their lack of experience but wealth of ‘beginner’s mind,’ seem to express more wisdom than many adults.

I no longer want to hoard facts and knowledge. Knowledge assists but doesn’t help me connect. In fact, sometimes knowing a little bit about something can be more detrimental than knowing nothing of all. I remember attending a dinner party a decade ago hosted by an Iranian now living in America. I thought I would impress her by trotting out my knowledge of Iran (almost entirely gleaned from reading the Economist). She went off on me, accusing me of being ignorant and on the side of the oppressors. Even though she was not a good host, a wiser move would have been to ask about her experience first.

These days I long for wisdom. So far, I see that wisdom comes from participating, risking, asking, listening, observing, going deeper. Cold, rational facts only take us so far. The messy, emotional world of experience is far more important to me these days. What works? Why? How can I connect more deeply with others, myself, my surroundings? How can I use what I know? What is important to learn next?

Long for wisdom? I’ve got this maxim covered.

About Niki Whiting

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