Knowledge vs. Wisdom

A few weeks ago, I heard a speech about the difference between knowledge and wisdom – something I’ve never thought about before.

That speech, in conjunction with a forest analogy my wife heard on YouTube by Eckhart Tolle, made me think about a trip I took to the Redwoods in Northern California a few months earlier.

Prior to going to this world famous place, I could have done a lot of research, learned about the trees, why they are so big and what makes them not blow over.

I could have learned that their rooting system is what holds them up – they basically work together to support one another.

I could have learned about the habitat, the surrounding area, the age of the trees, how many miles they expand along the west coast; I could have even mapped out where we were going to go (which my wife did – sort of).

All of this research and study would have given me quite a bit of knowledge about the Redwoods. With this knowledge, I would be able to “talk the talk,” tell people all about them, and profess to know the in’s and out’s.

However, what good does that really do me?

Until I was actually there, in the Redwoods, I had no experience, no wisdom.

Without being there, I couldn’t feel the humidity.

Without being there, I couldn’t smell the forest air.

Without being there, I wouldn’t have been able to hear the branches cracking as we walked along the shaded trails.

Without being there, I couldn’t stand next to the enormous “Big Tree” to capture how gigantic it really is.

All my study and learning about the Redwoods would do me little good until I got there and was among the trees – until I experienced the Redwoods for myself.

What does this have to do with sexual addiction and recovery?

knowledge vs. wisdom

In the Serenity Prayer it says:

“God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.” (italics added)

What does that really mean?

What is wisdom and why is it important?

Isn’t knowing about recovery sufficient?

Philoscifi.com explains the difference:

“Many people mistake knowledge for wisdom because they are intimately related, and this is unfortunate because they are quite different in an important way. Knowledge is the accumulation of facts and information. Wisdom is the synthesis of knowledge and experiences into insights that deepen one’s understanding of relationships and the meaning of life. In other words, knowledge is a tool, and wisdom is the craft in which the tool is used.”

So knowledge is the accumulation of facts and information.

“With the Internet, it is now relatively easy for a reasonably diligent person to quickly become knowledgeable in virtually any field of his or her choosing. We are literally awash in a sea of information! But having a hammer and knowing how to use it are two entirely different propositions.”

Thanks to the Internet, I can get knowledge about anything in a quick amount of time.

I can get knowledge about addiction recovery in a variety of ways too:

  • going to meetings.
  • reading from time to time in the recovery literature.
  • going to an addiction recovery conference occasionally.
  • talking to others about addiction and recovery.

I can even get knowledge about recovery by getting a sponsor who I call from time to time just to vent my frustrations or talk about triggers.

But do these activities give me “experience to deepen my understanding of relationships and the meaning of life?” Do they give me wisdom that will help me heal?

Not really – not for me.

As I’ve thought about knowledge and wisdom in relation to working the Steps of recovery, this came to mind:

“It works when I work it, so work it your worth it!”

Working the Steps, to me, is reading about recovery, taking it all in, thinking about what I’ve read, and then writing about how the content I’m reading applies to me right now, in this moment.

For me, writing is where the wisdom comes.

Writing begins to open the doors of my closed-off mind and help me dig up the core areas of my addictive mind – the addictive behaviors and addictive actions.

Writing helps me see things in black and white that I may have chosen to look away from or stuff in the past.

And for me, writing leads right into PRACTICING the Steps.

Practicing what I’m reading and writing is where the wisdom manifests itself.

Practice leads to progress.

Therefore, working the Steps, for me looks like this:

I pray to seek God’s will for me >

I read to gain knowledge and understanding from those who have trailed this path before me >

I meditate and write out my thoughts in an effort to apply what I’m learning >

I practice and reflect on what I’ve written throughout the day and share my experience with my sponsor and others one moment at a time.

I wish I was perfect at this.

I wish I could say that I’ve “arrived” and have it all figured out.

I wish my knowledge about these concepts was all I really needed.

But I’m learning that true wisdom comes with practice, patience, perseverance, and repetition – one day at a time.

As it says in the White Book:

Healing in the family begins by staying sober, going to meetings, and working the Steps. It continues by staying sober, going to meetings, and working the Steps. It can end by not staying sober, not going to meetings, and not working the Steps.” (p. 154)

What are your thoughts on knowledge versus wisdom in recovery from addiction?

8 thoughts on “Knowledge vs. Wisdom”

  1. This is a big one for me. I’ve read tons of books on addiction. I thought knowledge was the answer. But, I had trouble translating that knowledge into action. It just wasn’t changing me. I think its helpful, but, not sufficient. On the other hand, when I’ve seen guys in solid recovery, I see in them great wisdom. They seem to see through stinkin’ thinkin’. They always know the right thing to say to me at the right time. They can tell the difference between behaviors that are me being in addiction and those that are me being in recovery. They may not know the ins and outs of the science of addiction, but, they have a just seem to get it more intuitively.

    1. I agree Sam.

      Reading books about addiction and recovery, for me, has been helpful. But until I’m able to put things into practice, write out my personal thoughts and try to surrender my will to God as I understand Him, it’s all just additional noise that can pull me into “carnal security” thinking all is well. The same goes for just going to meetings. Sometimes I’ll justify that I went to a couple meetings this week – that’s “working my recovery…” But I am beginning to really feel when I’m not working the Steps: I become more of a magnet to negative emotions, which leads to more temptation to lust, and it goes downhill quickly from there if I open those doors.

      Working recovery and thus, acquiring wisdom, is not a quick process at all – it’s a lifelong pursuit.

      Thanks for your thoughts on the topic.

  2. There is a great story in the Big Book about a guy named Fred who is committed for his alcoholism and is visited by people from AA. He learns great knowledge on his condition from them and is convinced that, that knowledge will carry him through and he’ll never drink again. He winds up shortly after on a big bender while on a work trip and finds himself right back where he was, and has to ultimately admit they (AA) were right, the problem was a lacking of connection with God. For me, feeding off the great points already made in on this post, I think God is the bestow-er of wisdom. I have to believe that someone with no knowledge of addiction who simply works the steps and who recognizes his addiction is a result of a lack of connection with the Almighty would have more success with sobriety than someone who has immersed himself in study of addiction recovery to gain knowledge he thinks will keep him sober, but refuses to accept the lacking of connection with his higher power.

    1. Great points Cameron. Connection can only come as I practice, one day at a time.

      I may feel connected with God today but then think I’ve “arrived” and don’t need to do anything the rest of the week. How wrong I’ve been when I fall into this trap of false beliefs.

      The story of Moses and gathering manna makes a lot more sense to me today than it ever has in the past. I can only focus on today. If I try to stock up on connection for the next few days, the “manna” I collect will rot and do me no good at all.

      Thanks for your comments!

  3. Great discussion. I sorely needed the help today, and this discussion helped me so much.
    I agree with it 100%. And I agree with Cameron that wisdom must come from God. The spirit teaches us, and brings teachings to our remembrance. The knowledge is only useful to us if we apply it, and while we are applying it, the spirit is with us, which strengthens us and turns our knowledge into wisdom.
    Thanks brothers. Your support really truly does help me.

    1. Thanks for sharing and contributing to the conversation Doug. I’m really glad the discussion has been helpful. For me, it’s so awesome when there are comments from others who can share their experience, strength and hope. I believe, too, that wisdom comes from God, the Higher Power of my understanding. I believe He’s only able to help me when and if I surrender my will to Him. If I try to do things on my own or put my trust in other people or things, I will always fall short. But if I’m able to trust in Him and really truly surrender what I think should happen, He is there with open arms to help me through one step at a time.

  4. This is such a great reminder to me, and it hit me hard. As a spouse, there are ways I really struggle with forgiveness. I feel like I have forgiven my husband for looking at porn. But I don’t feel like I’ve forgiven him for not seeing me for years, for the mistreatment that came as a sort of side-effect of his addiction.

    Because I have read so much (and listened to talks and church lessons) about forgiveness, I have been feeling shame.
    Like I’m a failure Christian because I can’t seem to break through the forgiveness barrier, even though I have the DESIRE to forgive.

    My counselor recommended a different book on forgiveness and told me that forgiveness is just harder for some than others. It isn’t a mark of worthiness or anything like that… it just simply IS.

    So I bought the book.
    I read the book.

    And that’s as far as I’ve made it.

    This post is a good reminder to go back to the book (which I loved, and I feel like it took a really genuine and compassionate view on forgiveness) and put into practice the suggested journaling exercises and meditations.

    This post really hit home. There’s lots of wisdom waiting for me.

    1. Thanks for the comment Alicia. It’s great to get your perspective and experience.

      I identify with what you said about all the side effects of what my acting out did to my wife and family. I was such a terrible person to them. Even when I wasn’t in the awfulness of addictive actions, I was still practicing – 100% – the addictive behaviors. And those were probably as hurtful to the emotional health and trauma of my wife as the other actions.

      Plus, those addictive behaviors can still come back as character defects: pride, ego, unrealistic expectations, impatience, anger, resentment, shame, blame…

      And when they do come back it can trigger the same trauma feelings in my wife. I’m sure this makes it hard to truly forgive someone.

      Thanks for sharing what you plan to do as well. Insight like this is so helpful for me to hear and be reminded of.

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