I remember recently seeing one that said something like, “Knowledge is from the mind, understanding from the heart, and wisdom from the soul.”
Or here is a Zen proverb, with that interesting sideways twist most Zen things have: “Knowledge is learning something every day. Wisdom is letting go of something every day.”
Here is what I think: Knowledge is about facts. Or rather, there are levels of knowledge, and the basic level is about facts. You can get facts, and compile them, and if you’re lucky, your brain will store them in some way that you can actually access them again!
Understanding is about the why and how of those facts. We say you “get it,” when you’ve understood something. Or that you “real-ize” it—that is, it becomes real to you. You are more likely to be able to access those stored facts that you understand.
Wisdom, on the other hand, is about how to use or what to do with those facts. It requires something really difficult: flexibility. Well-understood facts may be used in different ways for different purposes, and I don’t mean twisting them. You can use those facts in different ways, and still with integrity.
Knowledge begins even before birth. Unborn babies learn to recognize mother’s and father’s voices before having a clue what a mother or father is.
Understanding comes as we grow. By around nine months, babies are beginning to figure out where they end and mother begins; thus the painful rite of passage known as “stranger anxiety.” Later they connect names and memories and learn the incredibly complex art of speech.
Wisdom takes a little longer…for all the much-vaunted incomplete brains of 20somethings, the fact is none of us is complete yet. Wisdom grows slowly, and it’s a choice. Everybody makes mistakes. Only those who pay attention gain wisdom thereby.
To ponder: How can you use the wisdom you have built over your life to help to build the domain of God in the world?