Information vs. Knowledge vs. Wisdom

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    I attended a program a few months ago by a professor sharing his latest research on virtual learning. He shared a fascinating application of technology for creating more enriched learning experiences for students. One comment he made really struck me. The project he had designed was for students to work in pairs to determine the flora and fauna of a region and howthey could be used for medicine. He showed them how to geomap the area and download information from the web to determine what would be useful for a hypothetical disease. He said the kids were so fascinated by the web and hand held device that they completely walked past the tree they were suppose to look at. Yes the kids were engaged in the task, but not looking up to see what was around them. They weren’t learning from the REAL reality all around them.

    Here’s the interesting metaphor for us to ponder. How often do we get focused on the representation of things that we don’t stay open to the actual things that are presented to us. We spend time blogging, chatting, Facebooking about friends, work, romance, health, spirituality etc. How much time do we spend doing things that cultivate friends, health, relationships, spirituality? Have we focused so much on the technology that we don’t experience the REAL reality?

    It got me to thinking of the difference between information vs. knowledge vs. wisdom. No doubt there’s a glut of information available at our finger tips. We no longer have to memorize a bunch of facts or instructions to do things, we simply look it up on the web. We have a vast library available to us of information, yet have we achieved knowledge about those topics? I asked the professor whether he thought the kids were learning how to gain information vs. knowledge from the exercise. He was a bit stumped. Knowledge comes from working with ideas, material, experiences etc. , getting your hands dirty so to speak, to have a deeper understanding of those ideas.

    Now for wisdom. That is certainly not something that can be given to another. Wisdom is slow to develop and can require a high price tag since our greatest source of wisdom often comes from our mistakes or opportunities not well spent. Sharing wisdom is a way to connect with another more deeply. In the US we don’t have a culture or much tradition of learning wisdom from our elders, by listening intently to their stories, hearing their experiences, seeing the scars of their mistakes.

    As much as the Millenial Generation may be the Digital Natives, and have information at their fingertips, they have a long way to go with gaining wisdom. My workplace has a potential for having 24% of employees retire in the next 3 years. That’s a lot of experience and knowledge walking out the door. I’m betting it’s also a lot of wisdom leaving too. What have you learned over the years of your work life about how to relate better to others at work? How to diffuse a tense confrontation? How to show your emotions effectively with your team mates?

    I’ve been fortunate to have two really wonderful bosses over my career life. They’ve not only been mentors, but we had a sacred relationship. We were able to share more deeply who we were and be authentic with one another. We had a lot of trust and mutual respect and admiration. They were elders who shared their wisdom and experience and I eagerly listened to them. My work was enriched from those exchanges.

    Think about how you gain or share your wisdom at work. How might this be a spiritual experience for you?


    For more resources, see our Library topic Spirituality in the Workplace.