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Our age is being forcibly reminded that knowledge is no substitute for wisdom. Far and away the most important thing in human life is living it.
– Frank R. Barry, 08/18/2004
Yeah? So? No one’s going to argue against living life.
To really get a sense of what Mr. Barry intends in this quote we must look to the first sentence in order to make sense of the second.
“Knowledge is no substitute for wisdom.” In this case, knowledge is what we learn from other sources, either by reading and listening or by somehow experiencing someone else’s life vicariously. In this sense, knowledge is not what we learn from our own experience.
An old saying, which I have taken the liberty to modify, suggests that wisdom comes from experience and experience comes from making a lot of mistakes. The wisest among us have made the most mistakes and learned from them, enough that they feel comfortable–sometimes even committed–to sharing their experience and what they learned from it with others so that they do not need to make the same mistakes.
The trouble is that most people don’t want to listen to someone else’s bad experiences, unless they’re looking for a new place to get their car fixed or for a new dentist or doctor. Advice is worth what you pay for it, another saying goes. This is a good saying only to some extent. Some advice comes from wisdom based on experience. (Other originates from rumour and fraudulent internet messages.) People who pay attention to the good advice may have an easier time of their lives by knowing the advice and at least considering it, perhaps even following it.
Life isn’t long enough to make all the mistakes ourselves. We have to learn some from others. However, the mistakes we make ourselves are the best lessons, if we learn from them and avoid making the same ones again. How we deal with our own mistakes determines how we live our life thereafter.
One of the biggest mistakes many people make in their lives is to restrict their activities to their jobs, their families and their immediate interests (sometimes even only one of those). Simply reading any article in the daily newspaper concerning a particular subject over a long period of time can add a great deal to a person’s knowledge. I studied China for a decade that way. That experience has served me well in my dealings with Chinese and my understanding of why China does what it does in the ensuing years.
We tend to expect doctors to study all aspects of medicine so much that they can answer any question. Many do. But medical research today becomes public so frequently that staying up is almost impossible. Divorce and family breakups are much higher among medical professionals than in the general population because researchers and doctors spend so much time learning about the subject of their specialty that they neglect many others things in life, often including their spouses and children.
We expect lawyers to know every law, even though it’s a challenge to stay up with legal precedents and changes in laws in their own area of speciality. Many lawyers spend much of their “free” time schmoozing with others in their network, including both colleagues and potential new clients. They may know nothing about fixing a car, planting and tending a garden, the feeling of hiking a nearby trail, how to play basketball enough to teach their own kids or even how to play many of the games they give their children as gifts.
The rest of us don’t care. We want a lawyer to know everything when the time comes for us to engage one. We care nothing if their marriages, their families, their lives are in tatters. When these tragedies happen, the lawyers themselves have no idea what to do about them, how to cope or even how they could have done some things differently if they had known what was important other than law.
The Frank Barry quote suggests that we get a broad range of experiences of life so that we gain wisdom for ourselves. Knowledge alone may be great for the job, but it won’t substitute for living a full life. When money or the quest for it is the most important thing in life, much is lost from the experiencing of a full life. Money quests are terribly restrictive.
Imagine someone standing over your grave after you die. Will that person say “He was a good engineer, didn’t know diddly about anything else, but he knew how to build bridges” or will that person say “He lived a full and joyful life and was happy to share it with others“?
In case you have missed out on much of life and wonder if it’s too late to change, it isn’t. A life can be changed as simply and as quickly as making a decision. Perseverance and willpower at sticking to the transition to the new life is important, but it can begin today if you want.
You are the biggest obstacle in the way toward change. So if you want to change your life, get yourself out of your own way. And start soon.
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a book about how to teach children the important things about life before they make severe mistakes and ruin their own lives. The book provides the methods and the lessons.
Learn more at http://billallin.com