And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly; I know that this too is a frustration. For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge, increases pain. —Kohelet
History tells us that King Solomon was the wisest man to live. In spite of his warning above, I still seek wisdom. He too sought wisdom, even knowing what it would bring. Wisdom is in itself a search. It is an endless journey. So, in searching for wisdom, it seems fitting to start with Solomon.
Wisdom doesn’t change. Only our perceptions change. One may approach a subject, considered it at length, and come to a conclusion. Later in life, that same person can approach the same subject and come to a completely different conclusion. In such a case, what has actually changed? The subject itself doesn’t change. The wisdom doesn’t change, for from wisdom did the first conclusion come after serious consideration and the application of wisdom. The person changes. They now have more experiences from which to draw knowledge. But knowledge is not wisdom. Knowledge is like an object. It can be given, shared, and learned. A parent teaches by giving their child the knowledge of the things they need to know. This is not wisdom it is simply the sharing of knowledge.
Wisdom is not knowledge, but wisdom can be revealed through one’s knowledge. A wise man may have no knowledge of a specific subject. But, given a small amount of knowledge about that subject, he can apply his wisdom to it and gain more knowledge of that subject. Conversely, a man who is very knowledgeable about a subject, but lacks wisdom, cannot attain wisdom even if a wise man shares his wisdom with him. He might apply that wisdom to that subject, but when another subject arises, he will not be able to apply that wisdom to it.
A wise man will acquire knowledge of many things, including folly. Folly is foolishness. A foolish man does not know he is foolish. Only a wise man can truly know foolishness. For the foolish man, his actions are normal. Only the wise man can see it for what it is. This begs the question, can a wise man act foolishly? He can if he is not applying his wisdom. Drunkenness is a good example of this. A wise man may want to escape the vexation of his life. He hides his wisdom away for a time. After experiencing his folly, he sees that it is not what he wants. He cannot live like that, so he returns to his vexing wisdom.
Why does wisdom bring vexation? One would think otherwise. Can’t the wise man find a way to avoid such vexation? The reason is because so many of those around him are not wise. When a wise man sees others struggling in what they are doing it is troubling for him. What seems simple for the wise man, is hard for others. It is not an easy thing to watch you friends and loved ones struggle with things that seem so easy to figure out. When you correct the foolish person, they will hate you. A wise man is happy for correction. It adds to his wisdom. The folly of mankind is the vexation of the wise.
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