“For an intelligent person, you say some really stupid things sometimes…” That comment was directed at me around my early 20s by my partner at the time and while I still remember it, the sting has gone. Yet I believe that it was – and still is – largely true and not just of me but also of many others because it can happen to any of us at times when we are not really paying attention to what we are saying or how we are saying it.
Perhaps a more apt and accurate comment might be ‘for intelligent humans we do some really stupid things sometimes’. Considering the human species has the largest and most developed brain of any primate capable of creative thinking, complex processing, keeping us safe and alive, detecting and making sense of information and so much more, not only do we know very little about it but also we’re not always applying its intelligence wisely.
What is the difference between intelligence and wisdom? Intelligence could be defined as the brain’s ability to acquire and apply knowledge over time through learning and curiosity. Wisdom could be defined as applying our acquired experience to make an effective decision which leads to the thought that without experience, we cannot have wisdom. If that’s the case, then both are important but not always equal; I’ve met people who are highly intelligent and yet not particularly wise and very wise people who would not be classed by some as ‘intelligent’.
Which is valued more highly?
I feel that in general, intelligence, intellect, being clever, smart or however the acquisition of knowledge might be described, is often valued more highly and for me, that started at school. It was evaluated by the ability to pass a test or exam, particularly with a high grade or pass mark, the academic subjects you chose, how many you studied at one time and their apparent complexity. While I understand the importance of benchmarking ability, the pressure that I felt then reduced my ability to perform well under certain conditions, particularly exams and I think many could relate. Does my ability to pass an exam indicate my level of intelligence? I would say not and suggest that there are other ways to measure intelligence that would likely be more accurate and certainly less stressful for most students; fortunately, this is starting to change … slowly.
Which is more useful? I would say wisdom, and a person can be wise at any age if they apply their experience however limited that may be.
So, while intelligence and qualifications may be useful in getting a job and securing an income to provide for our basic needs, my philosophy is that it’s intelligence applied wisely that will create long-term success. If we just continue to acquire knowledge without applying our experience then it’s likely that we would continue make the same mistakes, take the same risks, repeat ineffective behaviour or continue with habits that we know are making us unwell – emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically. And that’s definitely not wise!