Many times we use the words intelligence and wisdom interchangeably as if they both mean the same thing. We call a wise person smart and a smart person wise without stopping to analyze the definitions. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, intelligence is “the ability to learn or understand or to deal with trying situations.” Smart is defined as “mental alertness”.
Wisdom, on the other hand is defined as the “ability to discern inner qualities and relationships”. Another dictionary puts it as “knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action; sagacity, discernment, or insight”.
After analyzing these definitions we can safely conclude that a smart person isn’t necessarily a wise person.
We probably all know someone who was extremely intelligent, got all the fabulous grades in school, and then ended up living a really messed up life. As a teacher, I’ve encountered many such persons. I can easily recall the case of a boy I taught in fourth grade. Let’s call him Roscoe. This boy was really, really smart. His grades were so extraordinary that his mother walked around with his report card in her purse. She would whisk it out and brag about her intelligent son just about anywhere: church, supermarket, middle of the street… she was one proud momma.
Shortly after teaching Roscoe I left the school and lost touch with them. Many years went by before I met his mother again and asked how Roscoe was doing. I mentally counted up the years and by then he should have been in the university getting some fancy degree. But imagine my chagrin when she told me that Roscoe had dropped out of high school and was trying desperately to hold on to a minimum-wage job!
Then there are the innumerable smart girls who end up barefoot and pregnant living way below their potential, and the bright boys who end up driving Popsicle carts for a living. What went wrong? The answer is simple: being intelligent does not guarantee you’ll make wise choices, but being wise does. An intelligent person is not necessarily a wise person.
So how does one become wise? That’s a little more complicated. I have found that it takes a deliberate effort on one’s part. After making a number of really dumb choices that affected me physically, emotionally, economically, and spiritually I finally understood that I had to decide to be wise and then actively seek out ways to achieve that wisdom. Here’s what I discovered:
1. Good books. We have heard a lot about how important it is to read. What is not emphasized enough is that one needs to be careful about what one reads. Although grabbing any predictable sappy novel or superficial magazine and feeding from it might improve your vocabulary and grammar; it will not do much towards helping you to be wise.
2. Good people. Although I’m all against snobbish attitudes, I do believe that you have to surround yourself with people who can help you to grow. Be cordial with everyone, but only allow into your inner circle those whose lifestyles match your life plan.
3. Good thoughts. When I was about six years old I heard a song I have never been able to forget. It said you can’t live crooked and think straight. This is so absolutely true. Because your life is a reflection of your thoughts, you need to purposely get rid of toxic thoughts and ideas if you want to be able to live a good life.
4. Good activities. When you make up your mind to live at a higher level, you also need to re-evaluate what activities you are going to engage in. There are certain practices that are not inherently bad, but they are not wise choices for entertainment.
5. Ask God. Solomon is known as the wisest man who ever lived but he wasn’t born that way. According to the Bible, he deliberately asked God to grant him wisdom (I Kings 3:9). In fact, there’s a promise in the Bible that declares that anyone who lacks wisdom and asks for it will receive it. (James 1:5)
Remember that what and whom you listen to will influence your decisions, and hence, your life. It goes without saying that after choosing to be wise, you need to be actively involved in making sure you stick to your plan. Of course there may be times when you do something that might not have been the best choice, but a wise person learns from mistakes and becomes better because of them.