Why Wisdom Can’t Be Taught

The ancient philosopher Socrates went to the Delphic Oracle and asked, “Who is the wisest person in Athens?”

The Oracle replied, “You are!”

“That is impossible,” said Socrates, “for I know that I know nothing.”

“And that,” said the Oracle, “is why you are the wisest person in Athens.”

Although we are often told that wisdom comes with age or that it can only be gained with vast knowledge, this is not the full picture. Intelligence and wisdom are two very different things – wisdom cannot be taught in the same way we can learn things in the classroom or from reading a book. In the dictionary, wisdom is described as, ‘the quality of having knowledge, experience and good judgement’, and it’s good judgement that really sets it apart from other traits.

In fact, wisdom relates more to how you process what you know. Wise people try to grasp the lateral meanings of things, and how they can apply what they know to their everyday decisions, in order to reach a better outcome.

Humility is also a factor. Wise people recognise the limitations of their knowledge (just like Socrates!) and accept that there are things they will never know or understand. They are not afraid to ask, or to seek information. And so, by accepting the things they cannot change or understand, they are better prepared for when they might fail at something. In other words, they learn and move on.

In fact, setbacks are key. We cannot expect to succeed in everything we do, and wise people acknowledge that they most likely won’t. Instead, they have the ability to see a bigger picture – they are able to put things into perspective, rise above their personal viewpoint and observe a situation from different angles.

But how can we acquire wisdom? Or is it inherent within our character?

The urge to learn is one thing that all wise people have in common. It’s not that you need vast amounts of knowledge, but by being curious and open-minded, you can gain a kind of knowledge that isn’t taught. Becoming wise is a very personal journey, and it is through our experiences, mistakes, and how we cope with dilemmas that we can become wiser.

So, the next time you have a setback, maybe a less-than-preferred grade or a goal that was not achieved on time, process it and learn from it – in doing this, you can become wiser! Remember: wisdom cannot be taught, but it can be learned.

Why Wisdom Can’t Be Taught | INSEAD Knowledge