“What’s the difference,” you ask, “between the smart and the wise?” The simplest way to illustrate it is to imagine two shapes. The wise are represented by a circle. The smart are represented by a teardrop. Why is that? It’s simple really. The smart have a high level of knowledge that is domain-dependent, tied to specific areas. The wise have an understanding that is domain-independent, that transcends disciplines and operates regardless of context. I suppose you could say that the smart have specific knowledge in specific areas, and the wise have a general understanding applicable to any area.
If we accept that being smart is different from being wise, we’re left with some interesting possibilities as to what a person can be. Four to be exact. I’ve listed them below, from best to worst cases.
1. Both smart and wise.
2. Wise, but not smart.
3. Smart, but not wise.
4. Neither smart nor wise.
Why should you or I care about the distinction between smart and wise? I think the most important reason is that once the difference is appreciated, we can observe and decide which it is we ourselves are aiming for.
Are we learning to be smart? To penetrate to the innermost centre, to the deepest depths of an art, craft, field or issue? Are we seeking wisdom, searching for answers to big questions, trying to develop a meta-set of perceptions and investigative techniques? Are we in pursuit of both simultaneously? Or are we neglecting the development of both smarts and wisdom?