What is Wisdom?

Q: “What is wisdom?”  - Darius

A: Excellent question, Darius! As you probably already know, wisdom is different than knowledge. Knowledge is memorization, wisdom is understanding. Wisdom will allow you answer questions about life, solve problems, and think outside the box. Knowledge will allow you to pass written tests, decipher lingo, and get jobs that make money. Usually people don’t just have one or the other, they have a mix of both. In most cases, wisdom is slowly gained with age based on life experiences.

The gift of wisdom is wisdom gained without having to learn it the hard way.

The “gift” of wisdom, I believe, is based on concept learning. Normally, when most people learn something new, they memorize all the new information. But with concept learning, you break the new information down into concepts and seek to understand it. If you understand all the concepts and why the new information is the way it is, there’s very little left to memorize.

I believe just about anyone can learn to use concept learning. All you need to do is remember one 3-letter word…


That’s it! Just keep asking that one word! When you are given a piece of information, ask “why”. In order to answer your why question, you will be given more information. Ask why again! To answer your new question, more information must be given, which you also ask why to. See the pattern?

My Kid Could Have Been a Genius?

Kids naturally do this, and it drives us insane! Kids were born with this great instinct to become concept learners, and what do we do? We condition it out of them! We don’t want our kids to ask why. We want them to be obedient little robots because it’s easier on us. Kids are punished when they keep asking why, and rewarded when they stop.

The same is true in schools. Most teachers do not like to be asked “why”. (although the great ones LOVE it!) Why is this? Most of the time, in my experience, it’s because they don’t know the answer to what you are asking and it makes them feel insecure. The teachers have memorized the information, but don’t truly understand it. They have been exposed, and unsurprisingly, they don’ t like that!

Now, I won’t lie to you. You won’t make many friends this way. There is definitely a downside! It takes a lot of work and you will tick a lot of people off.

Dig it?

Imagine the information of the world like the layers (strata) of the earth. Except, these layers are made of foundational stones that get exponentially smaller the closer to the surface you get. At the bottom is one giant stone. The next layer on top of that is two stones. Each of those two stones has two stones on top of them in the next layer, for a total of four stones. This pattern continues all the way up to the surface, which is made up of millions of tiny stones.

If you were to try and memorize every single one of those millions of tiny stones of information, you’d never succeed. But, each of those stones is connected to larger, more foundational stones which lie underneath. If you kept digging down, you would learn larger and more basic stone foundations.

Those who learn through memorization will stay on the surface, seeking more and more tiny stones to memorize, completely unaware of how they connect to each other. A concept based learner will take one tiny stone and spend his time digging downward, trying to figure out how this tiny stone is connected to the very bottom foundational layer via all the stone layers in-between.

How do you dig downward? You ask “why”? If no one can answer your question, you seek to figure it out yourself.

Pace of Learning

A memorization learner keeps learning at the same pace all his life. But, a concept based learner’s learning will increase exponentially over the course of their lifetime. Why, you ask? (good job!) Because every concept they have learned can then be applied to every new piece of information they learn. In other words, they will eventually get to the point where the majority of things they are learning aren’t things they are taught.

This is why concept-based learners are so good at thinking outside the box. They don’t look at the surface of a problem, they look at the root of it and see what foundational concepts are involved. They then have a plethora of seemingly unrelated learned concepts and techniques they can apply to the situation. A tiny stone of information isn’t good for much of anything except its one intended purpose. But, the underlying concept behind it can be used for many other things.

Again, think of the strata illustration. Look at any random individual stone and note how many tiny stones on the top layer are supported by it. The further down you go, the more stones are supported. In the same way, the more foundational the concept, the more things it applies to.

Metaphorically speaking

That’s why metaphors work. A good metaphor is a seemingly unrelated situation that shares a foundational concept with the situation being taught. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that those we regard as the wisest in history all taught with metaphors and parables.

So, you can see how someone could be able to share wisdom and understanding about situations without having ever gone through it and learned it the hard way. I believe that’s what the “gift of wisdom” is. And it’s all because of one word…


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- Jim Graham
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