Intelligence, knowledge and wisdom are all things we possess to a certain degree. Many would like to see growth in each of these areas throughout our lives. Is there a difference between them? Can we personally contribute to an increased level of each? Let’s start with definitions of each. First, intelligence: the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.
Synonyms: intellectual capacity, mental capacity, intellect, mind, brain(s), IQ, brainpower, judgment, reasoning, understanding, comprehension
Those who study intelligence (they must be intelligent to do so, right?) further break down the definition into either two or even as many as nine types versions of intelligence. The two primary types are crystallized (the ability to use all the learned knowledge and experience stored in our heads) and fluid (general ability to think abstractly, reason, identify patterns, solve problems, and discern relationships). Here’s the list of the nine types:
- Linguistic Intelligence — ability to use words
- Spatial Intelligence — ability to imagine pictures in your mind
- Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence — ability to use your body in various situations
- Musical Intelligence —ability to use and understand music
- Logical-Mathematical Intelligence — ability to apply logic to systems and numbers
- Intrapersonal Intelligence — ability to understand your own inner thoughts
- Interpersonal Intelligence — ability to understand other people, and relate well to them
- Naturalist Intelligence — ability to connect with other living beings, including plants and animals
- Existential Intelligence — ability to explore issues of existence such as the meaning of life
Next, knowledge: facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.
Synonyms: understanding, comprehension, grasp, command, mastery; expertise, skill, proficiency, expertness, accomplishment, adeptness, capacity, capability
Knowledge is what we gain from school and other places of education, as well as what we read, hear and experience in life.
Finally, wisdom: the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment.
Synonyms: sagacity, intelligence, sense, common sense, shrewdness, astuteness, smartness, judiciousness, judgment, prudence, circumspection
Wisdom is usually demonstrated by the results of decisions and choices. People who are known as wise typically have a lot of experiences and knowledge, along with intelligence (and often grey hair).
So, with some basic definitions to start with, how can we grow our intelligence, knowledge and wisdom?
We tend to think of intelligence as something we are born with and can’t really change ourselves. A number of studies show that we can in fact grow our intelligence by exercising our brains, challenging it with problem solving and seeking new things. Read more things, meet new people, try new activities, play different games and puzzles.
Growing knowledge is a bit clearer, but not necessarily any easier. Doing the work of growing your knowledge will also exercise your brain, increasing your intelligence along the way. Reading, listening to audio books or podcasts, taking classes and attending seminars are all methods of adding to your accumulated pool of knowledge.
My view of wisdom has a biblical foundation. A search of the word “wisdom” in the New Living Translation version of the Bible came up with 214 hits. The first reference is in Genesis when Eve tasted the forbidden fruit because she wanted the wisdom it would give her. A number of times throughout the Old Testament it is reported that God granted wisdom to certain leaders. The most famous of these wise leaders of course is Solomon, who asked for wisdom. Here’s the relevant passage from 1 Kings 3:7-12:
“Now, O Lord my God, you have made me king instead of my father, David, but I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around. And here I am in the midst of your own chosen people, a nation so great and numerous they cannot be counted! Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?” The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for wisdom. So God replied, “Because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people with justice and have not asked for a long life or wealth or the death of your enemies— I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding heart such as no one else has had or ever will have!
Solomon was given wisdom by God and applied it to his 40 year reign as king of Israel. Unfortunately, he also wasted it and made poor decisions, especially after he experienced success and prosperity. Solomon forgot where his wisdom came from and instead of retaining his humility became prideful and arrogant, turning away from God and his commandments and in effect, losing the gift God had given him. Fortunately, God chose to inspire Solomon to share his wisdom and life lessons learned with us through the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.
The beginning of Proverbs makes it clear:
These are the proverbs of Solomon, David’s son, king of Israel. Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise. Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives, to help them do what is right, just, and fair. These proverbs will give insight to the simple, knowledge and discernment to the young. Let the wise listen to these proverbs and become even wiser. Let those with understanding receive guidance by exploring the meaning in these proverbs and parables, the words of the wise and their riddles. Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. – Proverbs 1:1-7.
So there is an answer for those who want to grow in wisdom. First, ask God for it (I do so almost daily) and second, read the Bible (I also do that almost daily). Third, get advice from others who have demonstrated wisdom (Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. – Proverbs 11:14). Finally, be humble, not prideful and arrogant, remembering that wisdom is a gift from God, give Him the credit when you demonstrate wisdom.