Choosing wisdom over knowledge


We often seem to equate knowledge with wisdom. We think that the people who know more or have more skills are inherently the most able to solve thorny problems and to offer sound advice, the most worthy of our praise. We hear someone at a dirty party spouting off facts about 19th Century Italy – or some other niche topic – and think “Wow – that guy is a genius!”

In short, we take how much we know as an indicator of our actual ability to make sound decisions ourselves and inspire sound decisions in others. In fact, at times it’s as if we can’t imagine there might be another basis of wisdom.

Learning more facts, gaining more skills, etc. is what we might call horizontal development. Through horizontal development, we are expanding the amount of information we are carrying with us. That’s a great and necessary thing.

But it’s not the only way we can grow and expand.

Vertical development is something different entirely. When we develop vertically, the amount of information in our brains may remain the same or even decrease, but we are able to do more with the information we have. Our brains have developed an ability to integrate more complexity and see things from a “higher” perspective. We are able to observe aspects and dynamics that before were hidden to us. Because of this, we are able to construct meaning and draw conclusions that we couldn’t before.

Some call it “higher consciousness.” Some call it “self-awareness.” But whatever it is, the core idea is that our brains are simply working differently -at a greater level of complexity – than before.

Neither horizontal or vertical development is “better” than the other. They are both helpful and neither is a magical gateway to definitive wisdom or inner peace.

But it’s worth asking: What is most likely to inspire widespread, fundamental, profound change in ourselves and our society: having more information or thinking differently?



Peter Schulte

Peter Schulte is the Executive Director of Kindling. Peter is also Senior Digital Engagement Associate for the Pacific Institute and the UN Global Compact's CEO Water Mandate, connecting businesses to sustainable water practices. Peter holds a B.S. in Conservation and Resource Studies and a B.A. in Comparative Literature from University of California, Berkeley, and an M.B.A. in Sustainable Systems from Pinchot University. He lives in Bellingham, WA, USA with his wife, two sons, and cat. Learn more about Peter's store here.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Get a spark 💥Good news & change milestones from around the world