Smart vs. Wise

This is another entry to my list of "therapeutic distinctions", pairs of words that at first glace may seem similar but which reveal important differences upon closer investigation . Today I want to compare intelligence and wisdom, since what it means to smart is not the same as being wise.

To be "smart" is certainly a great gift. Knowledge goes a long way in improving a person and the world at large. 

But "wisdom" is much more than the mere ability to gather up and work with great quantities of information. It involves having self-awareness that only comes from mindful engagement with the struggles of life.

Knowledge is derived by collecting information while wisdom is a result of collecting experience. Both require much study, but with a different focus.

It's been said that knowledge is aware of what it does understand while wisdom is aware of what it doesn't understand.

Intelligence resides mainly in the head while wisdom is more at home in the heart.

To be smart is to know a lot about what something does. To be wise is to know a lot about what a thing means.

Knowledge is something to seek while wisdom is something to receive.

A person can climb the mountain of achievement to gain knowledge but wisdom just as often emerges from the cavernous depths of failure.

The pain that is often required to learn something important is not the same as the suffering that is often necessary to give space for wisdom to emerge.

Many people with a lot of intelligence aren't very wise, and some of the wisest people you'll ever meet aren't especially intelligent.

Seek to perceive wisdom in others in order to find it within yourself.

I don't write this because I've got it all figured out.  It's more like what I need to keep reminding myself.  I hope one or two of these distinctions may prove helpful to others.


Bill Herring is a psychotherapist in Atlanta.  In addition to his general work with individuals and couples he is well-known for helping people figure out how to live with sexual integrity and self-control