About Wisdom vs. With Wisdom

Talking about wisdom is a good first step. Taking time to reflect is another.

“Wisdom enters not into a malicious mind, and that knowledge without conscience is but the ruin of the soul.” — Francois Rabelais, 1534

We can stand in the agora or on a digital street corner and try to define wisdom in dozens of ways. But possibly the best way to consider wisdom is through example.

Consider King Solomon of Israel. He was a significant Biblical figure also recognized in the Quran and Hadiths as enormously wealthy and wise, achieving prophet status.

When he was young, he made sacrifices to God and asked for a discerning and understanding heart. Impressed that he made a request that would benefit his people rather than himself, God granted wisdom to Solomon.

The classic story that demonstrates his wisdom is known as the Judgment of Solomon. Two women claimed to be the mother of a baby, and in order to determine the real mother, Solomon suggests that the baby be cut in two and each woman be given one half.

One woman asks the king to spare the life of the innocent child and gives up her claim, while the other shows no feeling and prompts Solomon to carry out his order. Based on their responses, Solomon discerns the mother is the one who loved the child enough to give it up so that it might live.


We admire the wise (such as Solomon) because they're able to reflect on an issue and make a suggestion or take an action that leads to further enlightenment.

What’s more, the truly wise leader helps make us wise at the same time. For wisdom is more than passing along knowledge, offering a pithy phrase or quote, or speaking from experience.

Wisdom is when we’re given the opportunity to look at a situation in a different light, to ask difficult questions of ourselves, and to hold opposing ideas in our heads at the same time.

I came across a line of poetry from Henry Wessell’s The Private Life of Books. In it, he wrote, “We learn substance and worth through others’ eyes.”

Yes, wisdom and experience go hand in hand. But so do wisdom and understanding. Wisdom and humility. Wisdom and empathy.

“There are three classes of men; lovers of wisdom, lovers of honor, and lovers of gain.” — Plato, c. 375 BC

In the latest episode of my new podcast Timeless Leadership [new episode drops this weekend], public philosopher Tom Morris was my guest for a discussion on wisdom. Not only did Tom make me mull things over, but an audience member made an excellent observation: he said that all too often, we’re speaking about wisdom rather than speaking with wisdom.

A simple yet powerful statement about the current state of our intellectual affairs. Because we have so many distractions, we’re constantly interrupted and distracted, running from deeper thinking and even to some extent, from ourselves.

We’re unable to speak with wisdom because we don’t give ourselves the freedom to do the hard work to attain wisdom.

Wise people are reflective, introspective, and tolerant of uncertainty. And are able to acknowledge their weaknesses and mistakes.

That in turn takes courage.


When we keep moving, avoiding the hard work of courage and wisdom, it’s like water sloshing around in a bathtub. You get a rhythm going, and manage to keep yourself from getting swamped as you move in sync with the water. But one distraction, one poorly timed movement, and you and the water are on a collision course, and the water splashes all over the bathroom.

But if you sit quietly in the tub and relax, an aura of serenity envelops you. You have a chance to focus on yourself rather than on the water.

And perhaps you emerge from the tub a little bit wiser.

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“Life is a learning experience, only if you learn.” ― Yogi Berra



This column by David Brooks is a must-read and a must-save. It probably belongs in the Timeless section below, but because it popped last week, it's what caused me to choose wisdom as the topic of this week’s newsletter. Wisdom Isn’t What You Think It Is. (The New York Times)



Self-awareness is what makes us human. Thinking about thinking is a uniquely human trait, and if done well, the insights that result can make us better people. (Big Think)



Two essential elements of leadership that are easy to miss: Solitude and Reflection. They give us the ability to reflect on our actions and inform our decisions. (Timeless & Timely)



“For all the virtues will be present when the one virtue, practical wisdom, is present.” —Aristotle, 340 BC



Knowledge vs. Wisdom, including the five-step path to wisdom. (The Wisdom Project)



The Art of Practical Wisdom: The psychology of how we use frames, categories, and storytelling to make sense of the world. (Brain Pickings)



Plato defined practical wisdom in his Nicomachean Ethics. We still have a use for practical wisdom today, and it takes many forms. These are the essential ingredients of if and ideas for how to nurture practical wisdom in your life. (The Art of Manliness)


Recommended Listening / Reading

“Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to be always part of unanimity.” ― Christopher Morley

🎧  Philosophize This! is a great podcast for anyone interested in philosophy, where you don't need to be a graduate-level philospher to understand it. In chronological order, the thinkers and ideas that forged the world we live in are broken down and explained. Your source for gaining more wisdom, every day.

📚  In their provocative new book, Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe explore the insights essential to leading satisfying lives. Encouraging individuals to focus on their own personal intelligence and integrity rather than simply navigating the rules and incentives established by others, Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing outlines how to identify and cultivate our own innate wisdom in our daily lives.

While I usually share one book each week, I’ve got another, in deference to my podcast guest this week.

We’ve all heard the old adage: When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. But no one ever says how. Finally, with the inspiration of Plato and the help of many other great philosophers, Tom Morris has figured it out and here gives us a recipe we all can use in Plato's Lemonade Stand: Stirring Change into Something Great. Tom blends powerful insights with great stories and good fun to illuminate the path of wise living in the face of challenge and change. Along the way, he shows us how to move with wisdom from difficulty to delight in everything we do.

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Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.