Because our search for wisdom must be conducted in an “information age,” it’s important to distinguish between information, knowledge, and wisdom.
Information is essentially organized data. It’s important, but no amount of information by itself will create knowledge. To move from information to knowledge requires experience.
I have a business degree with a triple minor in statistics, economics, and accounting. In working toward that degree, I took several courses on financial management. In other words, I had a lot of information about money and some experience in the business world.
But I must admit, our “financial adventures” of the last few years have taught me more about money than I ever learned in the classroom or the business world. It seems I had to experience some of the challenges on a deep personal level before I really understood—even though I didn’t gain much information I didn’t already know.
Of course, we don’t have to experience everything in life to know there are paths we should avoid. And the more we learn to observe choice and consequence in our own lives as well as in the lives of others, the better we can identify paths that are productive or destructive.
But it is experience—good and bad—that gives us knowledge to make good choices. It might be our experience with the pain of sickness or the “high” that comes from exercise that causes us to value health. It might be our experience with the grief of difficult relationships or the joy of strong ones that causes us to value relationships of high trust. It might be our experience with the anguish of debt or the satisfaction of accruing interest that causes us to value financial intelligence. In each case, it’s experience that helps us to know which path is best.
So how do we gain the most from experience? As we pointed out in Chapter 2, life is a process of learning, growing and course- correcting. To expect that we will not need to course-correct only leads to frustration. To make the same mistakes over and over also leads to frustration and creates enormous waste of energy and time. Instead of moving ahead, we’re simply spinning our wheels.
Thus, we need to process our experience. We need to ponder over it, reflect on it, and gain insight and understanding from our encounters with the affairs—large and small—of everyday life. Our ability to live with awareness and to evaluate and learn from our experience is one of the best ways we move toward wisdom and engage the gears that get us moving most effectively ahead.
Three “to do’s” we’ve found especially helpful in this area are:
Keep a personal learning journal
Learn from the experience of others
Share experience with others
One powerful way we’ve found to process experience is by keeping a personal learning journal. Aside from the therapeutic, documentation, and other values in keeping such a record, there is profound wisdom that comes from capturing your insights and thoughtfully processing the experiences of everyday living. As you do this, you become actively involved in observing and processing your own experience. You become much more aware of your navigational intelligence. You begin to notice the consequences that come when you follow it and when you don’t. And you can use that awareness, even in the midst of challenge, to recognize and seize wisdom- building capacity.
I remember one particular time when I was feeling a little burned out and unclear on my goals. Roger arranged to spend a few days with the children so that I could have a few days of personal time. I went to a nearby inn, where I enjoyed resting and relaxing, and that was very helpful. But what helped me the most is the fact that I took my journal with me and reviewed the past year. As I looked at my life from a larger perspective, I was able to see patterns that were not visible day-to-day. Experiences and insights began fitting together in ways I hadn’t even imagined. As a result, I was able to get a clear sense of what I needed to do, and I returned home energized and refreshed.
Journaling can take as little as five minutes a day, or it can be done on a weekly basis instead. It can be done on paper or electronically.
Advantages of a handwritten journal include portability and unlimited access—during a power outage, for instance—as well as a healthy slowing of thought processes, blood pressure, and heart rate. In addition, it constitutes a more personalized legacy for children or grandchildren who may someday read it.
Advantages of an electronic journal include quick entry, easy correction and editing, fast electronic or hard-copy backup to ensure against loss, and the ability to perform a word search when you want to look something up.
But however you do it, we encourage you to do it, and to periodically review what you’ve written to widen your perspective.
In addition to learning from our own experience, we can also learn from the experiences of others. We can enjoy biographies and quality films, plays and documentaries—anything that puts us in touch with real human experience that shows real consequences. Although the popular media presents abundant “life images,” we know deep inside that many of these images don’t represent what’s “real.” As a result, they create illusions and unreal expectations that can lead to frustration. Thus, it is “wise” to seriously examine media-created expectations instead of simply absorbing them unaware.
Another valuable source of wisdom and influence is people who are living in the world today. Many religious, political, business, educational, and humanitarian leaders are people of talent, experience, and inspiration who have something worthwhile to say. We can learn from their lives, their choices, their perspectives. Your navigational intelligence can help you bypass charismatic personalities or popular philosophies that are not principle-centered. Test what people say and do against the common themes written in the wisdom literature throughout time.
Also, we can learn to more carefully observe and value the example of choice and consequence in the lives of the people around us. A great advantage of this source—particularly when we learn from family members, friends, or neighbors who are willing to share openly—is that we are invited into the hearts and minds of others, so the learning goes well beyond behavior and into motive and meaning. One of the great benefits of rich relationships is shared learning.
This leads us to another wisdom path: sharing what we have learned with others. As you consider this path, we suggest you try the following experiment:
Stop for a minute and think about one person who has significantly influenced your life. Who is this person? What was it that enabled him or her to influence you in such a powerful way? Before you read further, take a moment and reflect on the influence that person has had on your life.
If your experience is like many, you’ve probably identified someone:
Who has strength of character
With whom you’ve had some kind of personal connection
Who had valuable wisdom to share
Maybe it was a parent or a grandparent. Maybe it was a teacher or a coach. Maybe it was a friend who believed in you when nobody else did. Whoever it was, this person made a difference in your life— most likely through his or her example and willingness to share.
The point is that you are a parent, a grandparent, a teacher, a coach, or a friend to someone else. And your example and sharing could make a profound difference in the quality of that someone else’s life. Of course, you never want to share in a way that’s perceived as being nosy or giving unsolicited or unwelcome advice. But if you’re focused on genuinely contributing to the well-being of others and you’re sensitive to “teaching moments,” you can invest in others in ways that will bring great returns—in their lives and also in your own.
By sharing in this way, you align your life with the principle of contribution. In addition, you open a dialogue that creates a bridge between your own experiences with principles and the experiences of others. As you interact back and forth across that bridge, you create a larger, shared vision, and understanding for both is increased.
This is one reason why marriage provides an incomparable opportunity for learning and growth. When two people with different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives come together in an intimate, loving, caring relationship, life learning is significantly enhanced as they interact and share experience and insight with each other on important issues of life. They can become wiser together than they could ever be alone.