Still other quotes talked about how wisdom related (positively or negatively) to other qualities, such as power, courage, cowardice, or greed. But because ultimately the point they made had much more to do with these qualities than with wisdom, I didn’t see including them as sufficiently justified. Additionally, many said wise things on various topics but not really about wisdom itself. And finally, some were humorous but not particularly insightful (and certainly not very profound). Such as one author who quipped: “Some men are wise and some are otherwise (!).” Or another who (punning in the same vein) opined: “We can learn much from wise words, little from wisecracks, and less from wise guys.”
What was most interesting to discover was that many of the best things ever said on wisdom were voiced many times over. And doubtless, this is no coincidence. There’s a universal understanding of the concept that transcends time and place. And while I didn’t want be excessively redundant—and did, in fact, eliminate many “repeating quotes” whose expression seemed less forceful or eloquent than others—I intentionally retained several of these intimately linked quotes in order to sufficiently represent each of wisdom’s major themes. Another purpose I hoped to achieve was emphasizing that wisdom, like truth, is singular. Its articulation may vary but it’s yet unchanging and immortal.
This is why what was said over two thousand years ago—by ancient philosophers, playwrights, and statesmen—might well be repeated by writers today, even though they might be totally unaware that their insights have countless historical precedents.
Although quite a few of the quotes in this collection are originative, that’s probably more the exception than the rule. So, as much as tenable, I’ve endeavored to group by motif many of quotes that follow. Here are the most common wisdom themes I encountered:
- Wisdom can’t be acquired simply through reading books; knowledge is one thing, wisdom quite another.
- Wise people continue to doubt themselves (and that’s part of what makes them wise).
- Wisdom is positively related to happiness.
- Wisdom must be distinguished from mere cleverness (which frequently “poses” as wisdom).
- Wise people talk less, are silent more, and listen more than those lacking wisdom.
- Wisdom is a function of time and experience (which are prerequisites to it).
- Wisdom derives more from mistakes and failures than from success.
- Wisdom has as its antonyms foolishness or folly . . . but not always.
- Wisdom is antithetical to fear. In fact, it’s what enables a person to overcome fear.
- Wise people are also humble. There’s really no such thing as someone who is both proud or arrogant and wise.
- Wisdom, and its quest, breed kindness and compassion.
Though it’s a cliché, I hope you’ll enjoy reading (and “assimilating”) these quotes as much as I did assembling them:
"Never does nature say one thing and wisdom another." ~ Juvenal
"More wisdom is latent in things as they are than in all the words men use." ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
"A wise man, recognizing that the world is but an illusion, does not act as if it is real, so he escapes the suffering". ~ Buddha
"Patience is the companion of wisdom." ~ Saint Augustine
"He that can compose himself is wiser than he that composes books." ~ Benjamin Franklin
"Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone."
"The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials." ~ Lin Yutang
"The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook." ~ William James
"It’s the simple things in life that are the most extraordinary; only wise men are able to understand them." ~ Paulo Coelho
"The wise man will make more opportunities than he finds." ~ Francis Bacon
"Wise living consists perhaps less in acquiring good habits than in acquiring as few habits as possible". ~ Eric Hoffer
"The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing." ~ Socrates
"The beginning of wisdom is found in doubting; by doubting we come to the question, and by seeking we may come upon the truth." ~ Pierre Abelard
"The wisest of the wise may err." ~ Aeschylus
"It is unwise to be too sure of one's own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err." ~ Mahatma Gandhi
"The wise know too well their weakness to assume infallibility; and he who knows most knows best how little he knows." ~ Thomas Jefferson
"The wisest man is he who does not believe he is wise." ~ Unknown
"The doorstep to the temple of wisdom is a knowledge of our own ignorance." ~ Benjamin Franklin
"A man only becomes wise when he begins to calculate the approximate depth of his ignorance." ~ Gian Carlo Menotti
"Wisdom at times is found in folly." ~ Horace
"[So] Mingle some brief folly with your wisdom." ~ Horace
"There is no wisdom below the girdle." ~ Proverb
"No one acts more foolishly than a wise man in love." ~ Unknown
"In seeking wisdom thou art wise; in imagining that thou hast attained it—thou art a fool." ~ Lord Chesterfield
"Every man is a damn fool for at least five minutes every day; wisdom consists in not exceeding the limit." ~ Elbert Hubbard
"He dares to be a fool, and that is the first step in the direction of wisdom." ~ James Huneker
"The strongest symptom of wisdom in man is his being sensible of his own follies." ~ François de la Rochefoucauld
"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." ~ Bertran Russell
"The older I grow the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom." ~ H. L. Mencken
"Wisdom doesn’t necessarily come with age. Sometimes age just shows up all by itself." ~ Tom Wilson
"Wisdom is a good purchase, though we pay dearly for it." ~ Dutch Proverb
"When I can look life in the eyes, grown calm and very coldly wise, life will have given me the truth, and taken in exchange—my youth." ~ Sara Teasdale
"Wisdom comes by disillusionment." ~ George Santayana
"Turn your wounds into wisdom." ~ Oprah Winfrey
"By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest." ~ Confucius
"From the errors of others, a wise man corrects his own." ~ Publilius Syrus
"It is easier to be wise for others than for oneself." ~ La Rochefoucauld
"Let me embrace thee, sour adversity, for wise men say it is the wisest course." ~ William Shakespeare
"Memory is the mother of all wisdom." ~ Aeschylus
"Wisdom is the daughter of experience." ~ Leonardo da Vinci
"The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions." ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes
"Knowledge in youth is wisdom in age." ~ Proverb
"True wisdom consists of tracing effects to their causes." ~ Oliver Goldsmith
"Wisdom consists of the anticipation of consequences." ~ Norman Cousins
"Wisdom is meaningless until your own experience has given it meaning, and there is wisdom in the selection of wisdom." ~ Bergen Evans
"Some of the best lessons we ever learn we learn from our mistakes and failures. The error of the past is the wisdom of the future." ~ Tryon Edwards
"We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success. We often discover what will do, by finding out what will not do; and probably he who never made a mistake never made a discovery." ~ Samuel Smiles
"It may serve as a comfort to us, in all our calamities and afflictions, that he that loses anything and gets wisdom by it is a gainer by the loss." ~ L. Estrange
"We seem to gain wisdom more readily through our failures than through our successes. We always think of failure as the antithesis of success, but it isn't. Success often lies just the other side of failure." ~ Leo Buscaglia
"Good people are good because they’ve come to wisdom through failure. We get very little wisdom from success." ~ William Saroyan
"A prudent question is one-half of wisdom." ~ Francis Bacon
"One's first step in wisdom is to question everything—and one's last is to come to terms with everything." ~ Georg C. Lichtenberg
"The key to wisdom is knowing all the right questions." ~ John A. Simone, Sr
"You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions." ~ Naguib Mahfouz
"Cleverness is not wisdom." ~ Euripides
"An ounce of wisdom is worth a pound of wit." ~ Thomas Fuller
"All this worldly wisdom was once the unamiable heresy of some wise man." ~ Henry David Thoreau
"Keep me away from the wisdom which does not cry, the philosophy which does not laugh." ~ Kahlil Gibran
"There is a wisdom of the head, and a wisdom of the heart." ~ Charles Dickens
"There is no wisdom without love." ~ N. Sri Ram
"Wisdom is the supreme part of happiness." ~ Sophocles
"Be happy. It's one way of being wise." ~ Sidonie Gabrielle Colette
"There is a difference between happiness and wisdom: he that thinks himself the happiest man is really so, but he that thinks himself the wisest is generally the greatest fool." ~ Francis Bacon
"Those who know are wise. Those who know themselves are enlightened." ~ Lao Tzu
"Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power." ~ Laozi
"Common sense in an uncommon degree is what the world calls wisdom." ~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge
"Don't taunt the alligator until after you've crossed the creek." [couldn’t resist including this one: it’s wise and commonsensical, though not really about wisdom as such] ~ Dan Rather
"It requires wisdom to understand wisdom: the music is nothing if the audience is deaf." ~ Walter Lippman
"Almost every wise saying has an opposite one, no less wise, to balance it." ~ George Santayana
"Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something." ~ Plato
"The first step in the acquisition of wisdom is silence, the second listening, the third memory, the fourth practice, the fifth teaching others." ~ Solomon Ibn Gabirol
"Speak less, say more." ~ Unknown
"Wise men are not always silent, but they know when to be." ~ Unknown
"Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you'd have preferred to talk." ~ Doug Larson
"Wisdom is not wisdom when it is derived from books alone." ~ Horace
"To wisdom belongs the intellectual apprehension of things eternal; to knowledge, the rational apprehension of things temporal." ~ Saint Augustine
"Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, be fortified by it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it." ~ Hermann Hesse
"We can be knowledgeable with other men’s knowledge, but we cannot be wise with other men’s wisdom." ~ Michel de Montaigne
"Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it." ~ Albert Einstein
"We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us." ~ Marcel Proust
"No man was ever wise by chance." ~ Lucius Annaeus Seneca
"What is the difference between knowledge and wisdom? Knowledge is gained by gathering data, whereas Wisdom is earned by going through actual life experiences." ~ Master Jin Kwon
"Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad." ~ Unknown
"The wise are only once betrayed." ~ German Proverb
"Knowledge is a process of piling up facts; wisdom lies in their simplification." ~ Martin Fischer
"Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it. There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom." ~ Charles H. Spurgeon
"Wisdom hears one thing and understands three things." ~ Chinese Proverb
"To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe." ~ Marilyn vos Savant
"Arrogance diminishes wisdom." ~ Arabian Proverb
"There is not one wise man in twenty that will praise himself." ~ William Shakespeare
"Just as a fire is covered by smoke and a mirror is obscured by dust, just as the embryo rests deep within the womb, wisdom is hidden by selfish desire." ~ Bhagavad Gita
"The highest form of wisdom is kindness." ~ The Talmud
"Kindness is more important than wisdom, and the recognition of this is the beginning of wisdom." ~ Theodore Rubin
"As we grow in wisdom, we pardon more freely." ~ Madame de Stael
"A wise man makes his own decisions, an ignorant man follows public opinion." ~ Chinese Proverb
"Philosopher: A lover of wisdom, which is to say, Truth." ~ Voltaire
"Wisdom never lies." ~ Homer
"Wisdom is found only in truth." ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
"Wise men, though all laws were abolished, would lead the same lives." ~ Aristophanes
"Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom." ~ Thomas Jefferson
"Half a man’s wisdom goes with his courage." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
"To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom." ~ Bertrand Russell
"Wisdom, compassion, and courage are the three universally recognized moral qualities of men." ~ Confucius
"Without courage, wisdom bears no fruit." ~ Baltasar Gracian
"Wisdom is knowing what to do next; virtue is doing it." ~ David Starr Jordan
"Being wise doth either make men our friends or discourage them from being our enemies." ~ Marquis of Halifax
"The wise learn many things from their enemies." ~ Aristophanes
"He is wise that can make a friend of a foe." ~ John Ray
"He that learns from everyone. Who is powerful? He that governs his passions. Who is rich? He that is content. Who is that? Nobody." ~ Benjamin Franklin
"Wise are those who learn that the bottom line doesn’t always have to be their top priority." ~ William Arthur Ward
"The attempt to combine wisdom and power has only rarely been successful, and then only for a short while." ~ Albert Einstein
"If we continue to develop out technology without wisdom or prudence, our servant may prove to be our executioner." ~ Omar Bradley
"History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives." ~ Abba Eban
[and, finally . . . ] "The wisdom of the wise and the experience of the ages are perpetuated by quotations" [ahem]." ~ Benjamin Disraeli
NOTE: If you found these quotes even half as interesting as I have, I hope you’ll consider passing them on to your friends and family.
© 2012 Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.
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