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Do you have common sense, knowledge or wisdom?


In this article I would like to extend the article I wrote in January titled “Knowing how to apply what you have learned.” Generally speaking, there are three types of learners: behaviorists, cognitivists and constructivists. Behaviorists are more teacher-centered and act as robots by memorizing facts, which then becomes common sense. Cognitivists, on the other hand, ask why and how from what to become knowledge. Constructivists are more learner-centered and know how to apply the knowledge in the right situations to become persons of wisdom.  


Taken from an online forum discussing their differences, the following explanation was given: wisdom is identified with common sense, founded on knowledge and intellect is the ability to effectively use knowledge and intelligence to solve problems. 


Another example that is quite interesting is an Indian comedic movie called “3 Idiots.”The synopsis is about three engineering students studying at the Imperial College of Engineering (ICE). Farhan wants to become a wildlife photographer but studies engineering to make his father proud. Raju is studying to earn money to support his family. Rancho, the smartest one among the three, believes that the success in studying is not achieved by solely memorizing thematerials and definitions given by the textbooks or professors, but by understanding and applying the concepts. However this method is looked down upon by everyone. On the other hand, many believe in mindless memorizing over understanding in order to reach corporate and social status. However on the first day of university life, Rancho applied a grade 8 science concept in using a steel spoon as conductor to shock the seniors who intended to make fun of the new comers.  His roommates said it best: we studied science but he applied it.(












Knowing that a steel spoon is a conductor is common sense but applied electric wire in steel spoon to produce currency is knowledge. Proper use of this knowledge at the right time and place is wisdom.


A company CEO once said that if you knew 80% of things in the company, you owned common sense like most people. However, if you knew the other 20%, you were knowledgeable and irreplaceable. In North America, if you observe carefully, you will find that the whole system was designed by 20% of the smartest and knowledgeable people and is maintained daily by 80%of the people with common sense. 


An engineer once worked in a CNC machinery manufacturing corporation for 30 years and then retired.  He knew the parts, machines and the manufacturing process of the system by heart. One day, one of the major Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines broke down, which seriously affected the whole manufacturer production line. After countless hours and energy spent on trying to debug the system, all of the workers failed to solve the problem. The manager had no choice but to recall the retired engineer for help. He came and spent around one hour to look through the system. Finally, he used a chalk to draw the figure of the machine and marked a cross on the section where the problem was. The company changed that part and the problem was solved.


Later, the company received a $3000 bill sent from the engineer. The manager was angry at the price, complained saying how one hour of work cost $3000 and asked for the detailed listing of the invoice.  The engineer sent the invoice with the following words written on it: chalk -cost $1, knowing where the problem lied - $2999. When the engineer came to diagnose the problem, instantly the skills accumulated from his 30 years of experience came up and played in his head like a microfilm.  Four possible solutions popped up. These solutions were based on his 27 times of failure and 153 times of self-examinations from solving similar situations.


Another anonymous quote online puts it nicely: Overall, knowledge and understanding produce wisdom, which is the "main thing", the ability to use a fund of knowledge and a keen intelligence to dwell on problems with good results. When someone has good reasons, it seeks to understand not just out of curiosity or with intent to ascend, but to behave with wisdom.

Jewish people are one of the groups of people that put the most emphasis on learning wisdom. You can join a Facebook page read the Talmud to learn about their parenting, humor, wisdom and reasons for their wealth. A remarkable story describes the importance of wisdom nicely. A merchant and a Jew are in a boat. The merchant asked the Jew what he brought on the trip. The Jew answered that the only “thing” that he had was his knowledge. The merchant laughed at him and in a belittling manner, showed off the oranges that he said he could sell to make money. Later, a wreck happened and among the very few that survived were the merchant and the Jew. At the new place, suddenly the merchant became a beggar and the Jew became a teacher.

80% of people know 80% of information. This information is called common sense.  20% of people may spend 20% more time to learn 20% of the more professional information. This valuable information is called knowledge. However, what is most valuable is knowing how to analyze, synthesize and integrate all this knowledge to improve personal skills, develop new ideas and benefit others. This process of accumulating and applying knowledge, which everyone needs, is called wisdom. 

Money can buy common sense, or knowledge in most cases, but not wisdom. A verse from the Christian Bible puts it nicely. Proverbs 2: 9-12 “then you will understand what is right and just and fair—every good path. 10 For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. 11 Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you.12 Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men, from men whose words are perverse”. 


If you had all the knowledge and wisdom, what in your current life would lose a lot or all of its meaning?

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