Most of us value our intelligence as a part of who we are. In addition to being considered kind, honest, hardworking and good looking, we’d like to believe that we are smarter than the average bear. But smart comes in many forms, and it’s important to know the difference between them.
Clever lives in the moment. It’s fast, nimble, and gets a lot of attention. It’s the quip that gets a quick laugh, it’s the wit that makes you the life of the party. But it’s not always kind; the first thing that comes to mind may be funny and smart, but it can also sting. You may regret clever the second it leaves your mouth, but you can’t take it back.
Smart is strategic. Smart comes in a couple of forms: book smart describes someone who has been attentive in class, someone who knows the book and probably goes by the book. Street smart describes someone who learned the lesson the hard way. Life, someone said, is a tough teacher; she gives the test first and teaches the lesson afterward. Street smart people don’t trust easily, which means they miss out on some opportunities. They pass on opportunities offered by people they don’t know or in forms they’ve never seen before. Even smart can have blind spots.
Smart is also seeing things that others don’t. Smart people don’t always accept the first or easiest answer that shows up. They think again and think differently. They come up with ways to make things work, using both native intelligence and lessons they learned along the way. In fact, one way you can judge smart is if the smart person is capable of getting smarter when faced with new facts or information.
Wise is different than smart. Wise is independent of book learning; in fact, wisdom can come from deep inside, at any age, without any lessons at all. Wise is also generous; in that way, it’s like love. It’s worth much more when you give it away. Wisdom is not always about what’s happening right now. It’s about the long term, which may not even seem related to the here and now. (Although it often is; you just might not be able to see that until time has passed.)
Too many of us aspire to be clever because it’s easier. Smart takes work to develop, and you can never stand still. You have to keep learning to stay smart, whether it’s in class or from experience. And wise takes time to develop. If you study hard, you can almost guarantee that you’ll become smart(er), but you can never guarantee that you’ll become wise. Only time will tell.
“When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.” . Abraham Joshua Heschel