Knowledge Isn’t Power. Here's What Is.


Never in the history of mankind, have humans enjoyed such an abundance of knowledge, than in today’s digital age.

Since the emergence of the internet, we have had unprecedented access to thousands of years worth of information, at the tip of our fingers.

We are spoilt for choice of “self-help” books, podcasts, articles, videos, courses, seminars and much more.

There’s a widespread belief that knowledge is power: the more information we consume, the greater the odds of success in our endeavors.

But has this abundance of knowledge made us better off than before? Since we all have access to a similar knowledge base, why do so few people enjoy success?

It would appear that the major difference between people who live a rich, fulfilling life and those who don’t, isn’t knowledge. It’s something much more powerful.

It’s wisdom.

Wisdom defending Youth against Love by the French artist Charles Meynier (1763/68 – 1832). Image Credit: Wiki.

The Key Differences Between Knowledge and Wisdom

“The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.”

― Isaac Asimov

We often mistake knowledge for wisdom and wisdom for knowledge.

Knowledge is potential power—like a paintbrush in your hands. It’s the accumulation of information and facts through reading or dialogue.

Conversely, wisdom is applied knowledge—knowing exactly how to use the paintbrush to create a desired image. It’s the synthesis of experience with knowledge to derive truths that linger for the rest of your life.

Knowledge is given and easily accessible, even to the foolish person. But wisdom is earned through learning from mistakes in the real world.

One can gain knowledge, but one does not seek wisdom—it emerges when least expected.

Knowledge paves the path for wisdom, but wisdom is the doorway that reveals truths in the external world that already reside in the internal one.

“Knowledge is proud that he has learned so much, wisdom is humble that he knows no more.” 7

Knowledge is the tool. But wisdom is the treasure.

Knowledge is only useful in the face of certainty. Wisdom is always useful both in times of certainty and uncertainty.

These are some of the key distinctions that highlight the superiority of wisdom over knowledge.

The question then is: How do we discover the treasure of wisdom from the sea of knowledge out there?

The Age of Knowledge Obesity

“Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.”

― John Locke

The two Greek words ‘philo’ and ‘sophia’ from which the word ‘philosophy’ is derived, literally means love of wisdom.

No other society in history has embodied this love of wisdom anymore than the Ancient Greeks, whose favorite pastime involved sharing knowledge and engaging in intellectual discourse.

The Ancient Greeks believed that the body and mind were inseparable: a fit body attached to an unfit mind was rendered useless.

It is no surprise then that the Ancient Greeks gave birth to the greatest thinkers of all-time including Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.

Their wisdom brought us the alphabet, democracy, science and mathematics, philosophy, the jury, schools, and much more.

But much like today, the Ancient Greeks were exposed to an abundance of information and knowledge.

So, how did they sift through the noise of knowledge to extract the wisdom that transformed the world?

According to the Ancient Chinese philosopher, Confucius, this can be broken down into three simple steps:

“By three methods we may learn wisdom:

  • First, by reflection, which is noblest;
  • Second, by imitation, which is easiest;
  • and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”

Whilst this may seem straightforward, it’s shocking that modern society is yet to take the first step of reflection.

We’re on a rat race to ‘get things done’ as fast as possible, so we make no time for much-needed solitude.

We’re quick to buy the most popular books on the The New York Times Best Seller list, yet we fail to reflect on the knowledge we’ve consumed—or worse, we don’t even read it, leave the books to collect dust on our shelves and show off our unread book collections to others.

There’s much talk in the media about physical obesity caused by excessive food consumption. But what about mental obesity caused by excessive information consumption?

Just like fast food, consuming “self-help” information can be extremely addictive, as we hope to someday discover the magical bullet to solve all of our problems.

Like an addict, we hop from one source of information to another, never satisfied with what we’ve consumed.

The irony is that our over-consumption of information has led to the inverse of what we had expected: instead of being inspired to take action, we’re paralyzed and overwhelmed.

Beneath the surface, our manic search for knowledge is an excuse to procrastinate and hide behind our fears—we know a lot, but have little to show for it.

Nowadays, any Tom, Dick, and Harry can claim to be an expert and share their opinions on any topic, with little experience.

Meanwhile, so-called experts with decades of experience, know-it-all but lack wisdom. In fact, they are the most susceptible to making the worst decisions and predictions.

If an overweight person wishes to shed excess fat and get in shape, they exert their body through exercise.

In a similar fashion, if we wish to shed excess knowledge and gain wisdom, we need to exert our mind, through deep reflection.

Statue of Socrates, reflecting and thinking deeply. Credit

Humility Is the Key to Wisdom

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”

— King Solomon, Proverbs 11:2.

Knowledge isn’t power, it’s the potential of power. And that power is wisdom.

Through reflection, action and experience, we can tap into our inner wisdom. But this isn’t possible without one key ingredient: humility.

Without humility it’s impossible to gain wisdom. As the Ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates said: “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

Alongside wisdom, humility opens our minds to new ways of thinking that help us make optimal decisions.

In today’s noisy world, it has become extremely difficult to decide who’s advice to listen to and who to ignore. You’d be hard-pressed to find a wise person, as their voices are drowned by the noise.

When in doubt, tune your ears to the voice of the humble person.

Because not all knowledgeable people are wise. But all wise people are knowledgeable and humble.

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