Another Try: Wisdom

Wisdom involves knowledge, but knowledge alone does not constitute wisdom. Wisdom is the abstract application of knowledge with discernment. That is, wisdom is not just knowledge, it’s knowing what to do with knowledge.

As I am wont to do when I wonder how important a concept has been to me, this morning I began counting the number of posts on this blog which include the word “wisdom;” I stopped counting at fifty. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a number that large when checking on the frequency of word usage on my blog.

Apparently, wisdom matters to me. But the impressively large number of posts in which I’ve used the word suggests that I’m still trying to determine why the concept is so meaningful to me. I keep turning it over in my mind, trying to uncover what the concept of wisdom really means; and whether I possess it in any substantive way.

I think I’ve written before that I believe wisdom arises from knowledge and experience. Experience is key, I think, in the formation of wisdom. The application of the lessons of experience to experiences not yet faced exemplifies wisdom. An understanding of cause and effect requires wisdom.

The first paragraph above refers to the abstract application of knowledge. By that, I mean understanding the probable impact of a concept before it has been applied.

In reading what I’ve written so far, I realize how esoteric my selection of explanatory words appear. But the concepts are not abstruse ideas. It’s simple, really, yet I continue to attempt to struggle with how to express it in simpler terms. And it’s not just how to express it that is such a challenge to me; it’s how to really understand and internalize and apply the simple concept to myself. It is one thing to know how to behave; it is another to behave in that way. It is one thing to know how to think; it is another to let that knowledge guide how and what one thinks.

Perhaps the reason I’ve having such a difficult time with “wisdom” is that I’ve been trying to express the concept in abstract terms, rather than in practical terms. No, that may play a part, but it’s more than that. I suppose part of the problem is that I am by no means the poster boy for wisdom. Quite the contrary, I may provide the example of what happens when knowledge takes a wrong turn and ends up in an impoverished village in Ecuador instead of Tokyo, Japan, the intended destination. There, that’s practical, although somewhat irrelevant to the discussion, I suppose.

I wrote a poem in August last year (2018). I entitled it “Wisdom.” I think it is the closest I’ve come to an adequate explanation of wisdom. Perhaps I should just stop seeking more definition of an idea already fully explained.


August 8, 2018, by John Swinburn

Wisdom grows not from the tender love of nurturing care,
but from abject neglect and brutal abandonment spun
on life’s loom from frayed spiritual kudzu that tries to
choke and strangle resolve.

Wisdom struggles upward from the darkest depths of the soul,
breaking through impenetrable layers of heartache and failure
toward the open skies of an open mind ready to accept answers
in the absence of questions.

Wisdom sheds arrogance and conceit during its journey from
certainty, through hesitation and ambiguity, toward doubt and
the knowledge that enlightenment is temporary and all answers
are clothed in fallacies.

Wisdom understands enough to comprehend that we know nothing,
even as we build temples to celebrate the knowledge we one day will
cast aside when we find what we will believe are truths hidden
beneath layers of dogma.

Wisdom is vapor—an imaginary mist arising from tears falling on
white-hot convictions that decay into doubts when confronted
with arguments and evidence, both credible and absurd—gossamer
smoke in a hazy sky.

Wisdom is experience adjusted for failure and tempered by success,
an age-worn garment woven from the tattered remains of youth and
the anticipatory shrouds of that inescapable conclusion to
which all of us come.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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