A 9-year-old with a cell phone has more information in the palm of their hand today than the president of the United States accessed in 1975. In the Digital Age, information is a commodity, and most of us are exposed on a daily basis to far more data than we can process much less use. To use information well, we need the right information and the ability to apply it at the right time and place.
Information is not the same as experience. Knowing people’s birthdays is not the same as appreciating the wonder of birth or finding a meaningful way to celebrate someone’s birthday. If you’ve got a favorite flavor of ice cream, you know that reciting the ingredients is not the same as tasting it. Talking about a star that’s light years away is not the same as viewing it within a constellation on a clear moonless night.
Nor is information the same as wisdom. Wisdom rarely comes from a Google search, a Twitter feed or downloading an e-book. It’s deeper than sound bytes or simply consuming another book or article. Data is an external component and we often accept it with little reflection. Consuming information is not as simple as data in and data out. There’s also an internal component. The information we receive is filtered through our personal lens based on where and how we grew up, education, past success – or failures, whether or not we’re happy, how much sleep we got the night before and so on.
Finally, wisdom doesn’t come from information and knowledge alone. It comes from taking action and being willing to grow and learn from our actions. As human beings, we’re funny critters. We know what to do, but it’s common not to act on what we know. In our culture, we have a tendency to look outside of ourselves–at external factors–situations, circumstances, and reasons to explain why we’re not taking action.
For a moment, consider two fruit trees. One has rich and luscious fruit. The other has dry, dimpled or damaged fruit. When only the fruit, branches and leaves on the tree with the damaged fruit are altered, it’s rare that the quality of the fruit is improved for the current season. In that case, the focus for change is directed to what’s external. The fruit, branches, and leaves are only part of the story. The roots, which are out of sight, also need to be considered. The pH, nutrients in the soil, physical condition of the roots, access to water and so on, impact the quality of the fruit. An important part of the fruit tree’s ecological system and health is underground. It’s invisible. And so it is with you and me.
Wisdom includes information. It includes experience. But it’s not truly wisdom until outer information is combined with an authentic awareness of our internal resources – and applied not only for our own benefit but to benefit others.