Wise vs. Smart

I have a friend who is amazingly wise. He is probably reading this, but he will have no idea that I’m talking about him. I also have a couple of friends who are staggeringly smart. One is one of the world’s leading art experts and can lecture in multiple languages. He has probably forgotten more information than I will ever know. The other is a pastor colleague who reads ravenously and can take what he has read and integrate it powerfully into a cultural interpretation. He sees things I might never see, or would take a long time to recognize. I often refer to these as my smartest friends.

I envy them. I worked my way through college and graduate school, and was a pretty mediocre student. If anyone thinks I’m their smart friend, well, that doesn’t speak well of the intelligence of their other friends. I envy people who know so much, and I feel inferior in their presence. I am a country boy from South Georgia, and I am okay with that. I do wish, however, that I knew more about so many things.

Still, if I found a genie in a bottle that had only one wish left to grant, I don’t think I’d ask to be as smart as my two smartest friends. They are amazing people and great assets to the universe. If I had only one wish, I’d ask the genie to make me as wise as the first friend I mentioned.

It has taken me a lot of miles and years to really understand the difference between being smart and being wise. If I had to choose, like Solomon, I’d ask God to make me wise. This friend has the emotional intelligence to read what is really happening inside of people and to assess things without judgment or condemnation.

He said recently about someone, “He has no core. He isn’t a bad person, but he doesn’t really know who he is, and, worst of all, he doesn’t know he doesn’t know. He can’t be vulnerable and open because he has no idea what’s on the inside.” This was spoken with great tenderness and compassion. Me, I would have been judgmental and critical.

Maybe that is the key. Next time I’m tempted to respond negatively to someone, I should stop acting like I’m smart enough to know enough to judge. Perhaps if I paused long enough to ask for wisdom, I might be able to see the truth with my heart, and I suspect my response would be more like Jesus. Come to think of it, Jesus is, after all, the wisest person I know.

by Michael Piazza
Co-Executive Director
The Center for Progressive Renewal

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