I come from a family of fairly well-educated individuals. My paternal grandfather was a public-school administrator, my parents, an aunt, and my sister all hold (or held) advanced degrees from well-known accredited universities. My father graduated from Purdue University with a degree in Electrical Engineering.
I, on the other hand, failed to graduate from High School. I did acquire a General Equivalency Diploma (G.E.D.) from Seminole Community College later on.
And yet, right before my father’s death in 2018, he pulled me aside and told me I was the smartest person in the room. It was Christmas time. And what family members could, were gathered at my parents’ house in Tennessee all knowing that it was very likely my dad’s last Christmas as he had been battling cancer for quite some time. My wife and I had arrived late and were to stay in the camper out in the barn. The family was taking the time to walk us through all of the particulars of staying in the camper when all I wanted was to just crawl into bed and sleep. As some of the instructions seemed to drag out and contain little relevance to sleeping in the camper (at least in my opinion) I insisted on cutting them short and just allowing my wife and I to be able to sleep. Needless to say, this was not received well and as everyone was tired and worried about dad, some arguments ensued.
I quickly reached a point where I decided that the 7-hour drive back home was preferable to arguing and not getting any sleep and I went into the house to tell my ailing father that my wife and I would indeed not be staying but rather were going to head back home (which we did the following morning).
It was during this conversation, where I actually thanked my dad for the invitation, and attempted to explain that from my point of view all we wanted to do was just go to sleep and that we would be happy to sort out all of the particulars of the camper rules in the morning, when my dad looked at me and asked a question he had never asked before. Ever. He looked and me and said, “Who is the smartest person here?” Which I immediately thought was a trick question as I tried to think of just what the correct answer could be. The sister with the PhD was the immediately obvious choice. But mom, with a Masters Degree certainly had to be considered. And of course, I’m sitting there talking to the one person the whole family considered the smartest person there, my dad. Dad worked for NASA his entire career and had a t-shirt that said, “Well yes, I actually AM a Rocket Scientist” (which was true). And while I was sitting there with all of this running through my head, dad said the most surprising thing he ever said to me, “You are.” Dad had said a lot of things to me about education, academia, studies, and learning over the years, but never had they included the words “smartest person in the room” when referring to me. But dad was not finished talking just yet. Because he had a point in saying what he said. And so, he went on to say, “And being the smartest person in the room can be both a blessing and a curse.”
It was at this point I instantly knew that dad was telling me to ‘Man up’, ‘be the bigger person’, and that sometimes you had to take a few hits in order to walk the path of serenity. And yes, that may sound a little New Age and sappy, but the truth of the matter is that sometimes you have to be the person that takes the path that maintains peace in a relationship. And dad was telling me, in a very diplomatic way, that he understood my argument, and that I was tired and just wanted to go to sleep, but that he also understood that there were other people in the family that had considerations also. He was asking me, politely, to be the one to take the steps to peace.
And so, of course this was a life defining conversation, right? And I instantly did the right thing, correct? Well while dad’s words did have an impact, and while they did calm me down during the moment, my wife and I still left for home the next morning.
But what dad (whom the whole family really did consider to be ‘the smartest person in the room‘) demonstrated at the moment was not great intelligence, but rather wisdom. And perhaps a little political savviness as well.
And as Dennis Prager has pointed out numerous times, they are not the same.
Intelligence may define your capacity for learning or understanding, but it does not encompass all learning. A medical doctor may be quite accomplished in the field of medicine while not being very learned (having acquired much knowledge) in the field of quantum physics. At the same time a Quantum Physicist may not be very accomplished in the field of medicine. But no one would argue that both the doctor and the scientist are not quite intelligent individuals. A smart person on the other hand, may demonstrate the capacity for intelligence without having the learning behind it.
Wisdom, however, is the ability to discern knowledge and truths and use them to take correct actions. And wisdom begins with the Lord (Psalms 111:10, Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 9:10). In order to correctly discern all that we observe in the world around us, we need to first start with a world view that begins with the Lord God. It is only then that we can then put into practice what our intelligence brings to the table in order to effect good outcomes.
Unfortunately, we have a lot of intelligence in our leadership today. But it lacks wisdom. Our President, Vice President, Senators, and Congressmen are all applying intelligence to their job of running our country. But very few are applying wisdom. And it is simply because they don’t begin with the Lord God.
What will wisdom gain you? Peace. Peace in the family, peace in your life, peace in your country, and peace in the world. And the really great thing is, you don’t have to take out a student loan in order to obtain it. Wisdom is free for the asking: James 1:5. A really smart person would ask for some today.