Many African proverbs talk about ‘wisdom’, and people often say that proverbs themselves are small pieces of wisdom. But what is ‘wisdom’, and why is it so important for us to find it for ourselves?
“WISDOM IS WEALTH”
This common proverb shows the importance of wisdom in almost every culture. By saying that wisdom is wealth, the proverb tells us that wisdom can help us to gain other, material, wealth (things like money, land and goods). More importantly, it tells us that in the same way that we value money, we should value wisdom – and that it is wisdom not money that makes valuable lives.
This does not explain what exactly wisdom is, though. To understand it better, we need to think about both wisdom and knowledge. These are two complicated things, and wise men have thought about both of them for a long time; it might help you to talk about them with others.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN KNOWLEDGE AND WEALTH
Knowledge is the information you get from your senses (seeing, hearing, touching, feeling), and includes facts, figures and information. You can know what colour a banana is, or you can know what the laws are in your country and what the rules are about how you should act.
However, knowing is not everything. Wisdom means using your knowledge, in two main ways:
- Judging or working out what to do in a particular situation, using the knowledge you have. This could be a decision like choosing what to spend some extra money you just received on – saving it in a bank account or buying some nice new clothes. There is no right or wrong answer, but which do you think would be a wiser choice? Why?
- Thinking about how to live your life, what is important to you, what you believe in. Our first proverb, that ‘wisdom is wealth’, suggests that seeking wisdom should be important – that it would be wise to care about thinking wisely.
You will see that in both these areas there is no one correct answer to learn or think of very quickly. Wisdom is not like knowledge, which you can read in a book. What is ‘wise’ is different at different times: sometimes it might be wise to follow others’ advice, but at other times you would be wiser not to listen to them because they do not have your best interests at heart.
We can use wisdom in making decisions or choices. Although in these situations there is no correct answer, when we say a choice or decision is ‘wise’, we mean it is the best or most useful. (although what is ‘best’ is a question that needs lots of space and wisdom to try to answer!).
“WISDOM DOES NOT COME OVERNIGHT”
If we listen to the wisdom of proverbs, we start to think that it is a good idea to seek wisdom. But how do I do that? How can I make better decisions? How can I choose a good life?
This proverb tells us that it takes time to become wiser. This is because we need to practice. And we practice through thinking – thinking about what to do, and when something goes wrong, about why it went wrong and how it could have been avoided. Because wisdom takes time and practice, old people are often thought very wise – but this is only true if they have spent their years trying to think and learn.
“ONE WHO CAUSES OTHERS MISFORTUNE ALSO TEACHES THEM WISDOM”
As well as thinking about your experiences and taking time to think before you act, it is through others that we achieve more wisdom. This proverb reminds us that we can become wiser even through people who are not trying to help us because that teaches us lessons: if someone cheats us at cards, we should start to think better about questions like ‘who should I trust?’.
We also need other people for wisdom because humans develop their thinking best by talking. Think about when you have a problem: do you always talk about it with others? Hearing different opinions and asking questions about why other people hold their different opinions can help you to get better at choosing what is useful or best. You will also start to find out which people are wise, which people you trust, and see them as an example of wisdom. But you should trust your own thinking and seek to grow your own wisdom first and foremost!