Seek Wise People, Not Wise Words

Living Well Through Education

If you Google search "wise quotes", in about 0.07 seconds you can find 46,400,000 results.  Anything from Plato, Buddha, and Confucius to Jimmy Hendrix and Eisenhower.  People talk about all sorts of things, and if you are famous enough, i.e. played in a movie, been auto-tuned in a popular song, or released a sex tape, then people will tend to listen.  And some people will tend to write these things down and pass them off as wisdom later on.

With so many quotes online these days, however, things can get screwed up pretty quickly.  Think of how many times you have been reminded of a quote, only to realize you forgot who said it, and where it came from, and what it actually said.
"Well I'm pretty sure it was Steven Spielberg or somebody who said, 'Its not who you are, its what you do in life that matters most.'...or is it the other way around?"
Now take those instances and multiply them by the vastness of the internet and you can begin to see what I'm getting at.  Quotes are so often misspoke, misinterpreted, and credited to the wrong person that the quote itself becomes meaningless.  It becomes a joke.

Then, on the other hand, you have people who think that just because you say something that sounds wise means you are wise, as if being able to spout off something intellectual means you are intelligent.  Take for instance this quote attributed to Paris Hilton:
"A lot of women feel it's a man's world. Some people think all you need to do is marry a rich guy, and you don't need to do anything with your life.... I would hate that. I don't care whether he has money or he doesn't, because I don't need it, and that's a good feeling that I don't have to worry about that."
Such amazing words coming from such a strong woman who no doubt has endured many hardships in li....wait, what?  Paris Hilton, really?  Describing how she doesn't require money?  She is famous for being a celebutante, a child of fortune famous only for her looks and lifestyle, not for any actual worth she brought anyone.  Attribute this quote to somebody else, though, and it could sound like a legitimately wise quote.

However, this is just not the case.  Words assembled in a particular way alone do not convey wisdom, only an ability to orate.  Wisdom is much more than speech, although that is part of it.  It is about action, about applying knowledge in such a way as to reinforce values.  It is about a person's entirety of character.  Wise words are only so because they come from a wise person, a person who says them with a genuine understanding of their meaning.  To seek out wise quotes without also seeking out a full understanding of those words is to miss the point.

Do not merely seek wise words, then.  Seek to understand just what the words mean in their larger context.  This will entail finding just who exactly said them, what they mean, where did they come from, and what sort of person said them.  Seek out wise people, not wise words, and you'll soon find yourself finding true wisdom.

Mitchell Sahlfeld

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