As you are well aware by now if you have been following my blog, I am a proud and self-proclaimed uber-geek. Just in case you are not fully convinced of my epic level of geekdom by my love for chess, mathematics, and computers though, today’s admission should seal the deal. Up until just a few years ago when I grew out of it, I was a big gamer, specifically games from the Dungeons and Dragons universe. I would sit around for hours on end trying to build the perfect dwarven warrior or gnome mage with a bunch of other uber-geeks, and then go slay dragons and hunt for treasure. Even though this solidifies my title of uber-geek beyond a shadow of a doubt, these long days journeying through dark castles and far away lands also illustrated an important distinction that has been useful throughout my life. Since you are far to cool and hip to spend hundreds of hours in search of some “Gauntlets of Ogre Giant Strength +3,” I am going to share this valuable information with you today. This critical disparity is the difference between wisdom and intelligence.
In the Dungeons and Dragons universe when you create your character you give them varying amounts of certain attributes, like strength, dexterity, wisdom, and intelligence, that would best suit the type of character you want to play. For example, if you want to be a bruitish fighter, you would want more strength and dexterity, but if you were going to play a sorcerer you would want to load up on wisdom and intelligence (it is way more complicated than that, but that is the basics). In addition to spending a slew of hours thinking about the distinction between wisdom and intelligence within the Dungeons and Dragons world, these years of making countless characters also caused me to think about this important difference in the real world as well. After letting these two concepts percolate and bounce around my brain for a long, long time, I was able to come up with definitions for each term that effectively explain their differences and the role they play in your life. Intelligence, and we are talking about traditional intelligence as would be tested by an IQ test, is a measure of your ability to identify patterns, solve novel problems, and retain new information. It is what we look to develop and implement in academics and performing daily tasks. Wisdom, on the other hand, has little to do with academics, as it is more abstract. Wisdom is the knowledge of what constitutes a good life and living the “right” way.
A great example of this differentiation from my own life is my relationship with my first night nurse, Mark. Mark and I came from totally different worlds. Mark was 30 something, African-American, and a devout Christian with a wife and kids. I was 15 years old, physically disabled, and thought I knew everything about everything with no responsibilities. Despite being complete opposites and coming from totally different backgrounds, Mark and I quickly became good friends. We really enjoyed the hour or two every night when we would do my night time care, laugh at David Letterman, and talk about our days. In addition to having a great time together, we also taught each other a lot. While on paper you would think that I would have done most of the teaching, since I had an IQ north of 130, got over 1450 (out of 1600) on my SATs, and scored in the top 0.5% on other standardized tests, but you would be wrong. I may have passed on some trivial facts about dinosaurs or the environment to him, but even thousands of facts like these would pale in comparison to the things that Mark taught me. Even though I may have been more intelligent, Mark was much wiser than I could ever be (although I am trying), and he was kind enough to share his wealth of knowledge about life and happiness with me.
Mark taught me a lot of lessons about life and happiness (many of which I have since passed on to you), and he did this without ever lecturing or preaching to me once. Mark, being the clever sage that he was, shared all of these pearls of wisdom with me by modeling them for me for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, every week for over 5 years
(roughly 100,000 hours). He taught me things like the importance of having patience. Not only did he put up with me and my endless babbling for years (a Herculean feat of patience for sure), but he also showed patience in his personal life. I remember when he was having new house built and there were issues with the realtor and the contractors that pushed back the move-in date for his family over a year, and despite the fact that they could not wait to move, he never got discouraged or overly upset. He merely said that when the time was right, he would have his dream house. Mark also showed me the importance of continuing to challenge and better yourself, no matter what age you are or how much is going on, in order to have a fulfilling life. He was always reading something new and interesting, and in the time I knew him he became an expert on home theater systems (and built one in his home) and studied on his own about real estate and became a licensed realtor. The most important life lesson that Mark shared with me though was how important it is to be in touch with your spirituality. We are all aware that the topic of spirituality is touchy at best, yet he was able to illustrate for me how critical your faith is to your happiness, regardless of your specific beliefs. In all of the numerous discussions Mark and I had on this subject (and a few got intense), he always respected my opinions and explained his own. His understanding, gentle demeanor coupled with his strong faith and knowledge of his beliefs, showed me how to practice my faith, whatever that may be, in a way that enriches my life and brings me happiness.
While I have not seen Mark in several years, and we only communicate on Facebook or by email a few times a year, I will never forget how much he taught me or how much he impacted my life. By passing on his wisdom to me, he gave me many of the tools I have developed and used to create the happy, successful life that I have now. This wisdom he shared is so much more valuable to me than any of the lessons I have learned in any classroom, where I was supposedly being made more intelligent. I am not saying that academic learning is not important (I am a huge nerd), but it is essential to remember that a lot of the most important lessons you acquire are learned outside the lecture hall from people without multiple degrees (sometimes in a dungeon with a half-orc barbarian). Make sure you are not so busy learning all of the things that society says is relevant that you miss out on the lessons that are really important. Also remember that everyone has something to teach you, if you are open to it and willing to actually listen. Most importantly though, recognize the difference between wisdom and intelligence and try to find the right balance for your life. By maintaining the right harmony between these two concepts, you will have all the tools you need to lead a happy, successful, and fulfilling life.