O’s Success Tips: Never Mistake Knowledge for Wisdom

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The blades rattled gently as it slowly gathered enough speed to send a rush of cool breeze across my face. All the while, I starred surprisingly at the now fully functional fan, as I muttered the words repeatedly “surely I can’t be that stupid!”

My dilemma started a few weeks ago, when the ceiling fan in my room mysteriously stopped functioning. The blades rotated rapidly, but instead of cooling the room, they seemed to make it warmer. I was clearly befuddled. “How could the blades rotate and yet warm up the room?” I thought to myself. Surely the blades might be damaged? Upon further investigation, I observed the fan blades to be in pristine condition. What could the problem be? And then it struck me as I watched the speeding fan blades slowly come to a halt. The fan appeared to be spinning in the opposite direction. That definitely explained why my room felt warmer. Instead of circulating the air around the room, it was sucking it towards the ceiling, causing a warming effect in the room. All I had to do was to figure out how to reverse the rotational direction of the blades. A seemingly trivial task, one especially suited for a student that excelled in his university level Electrical Circuits course. All I had to do was change the black and red wires in the fans circuitry, which would in turn reverse the spin of the fan.  But this task proved daunting, especially once I surveyed the complex circuitry of the fan. I immediately rifled through my aged collection of college circuit textbooks, but even that could not untangle the complex web of wires that infected my fan. My room still remained as hot as ever!

The coming of the winter cold quickly waned my concern over the fan, affording me ample time to carry out extra house cleaning responsibilities. While cleaning the house, I observed a thick film of dust coating the fan blades.  I pulled up a chair and proceeded to restore the blades to a clean state. I was half-way done  when I stumbled upon a discreet button on the fan casing. It was a switch. Instinctively, I flicked the switch into the empty slot next to it. “Could this be the solution?” I murmured, as I quickly clambered off the chair. I tugged gently at the fans cord. Initially there was no response. But then suddenly the fan creaked and  slowly picked up speed, creating a vortex that sent a sweeping burst of air across the room. A cool breeze that was only interrupted by the words “gosh, I am stupid!”

For months, I had searched for a solution to my fan predicament scouring the internet, looking through textbooks, and drawing on my outdated college experience. I searched everywhere, except the fan. My seemingly simple problem had been escalated to something much more complicated. Inevitably in life we are faced with problems, especially in our interactions with people. It could range from a difficult boss at work to a demanding family member. Instead of focusing on the source of the problem (the boss or family member) we turn to talk show hosts, advice columnists and biased friends and family for solutions. These sources, like the text-book in the fan story, draw us away from the real solution and ends up magnifying the scale of our problems.

Ironically some of the best advice comes from people we consider to be less qualified than we are. Sometime ago a freight truck had somehow gotten lodged between a bridge and the road. Engineers from all across the city were dispatched to the site to devise a scheme to free the truck and thus eliminate  a potentially catastrophic traffic jam. They came armed with calculators, textbooks and years of experience. As expected, their brilliant minds concocted one elaborate scheme after another, all to no avail. Suddenly a small voice quirked “The tires, the tires. Why don’t you just deflate the tires?” Similar to my reaction towards the fan incident,  the engineers must have experienced a gosh-I-am-stupid moment. Here was a young boy with neither a college education nor a calculator proposing a solution. And worse still the solution was plausible. If all the tires on the truck were deflated, it would reduce the trucks’ overall height thereby allowing the vehicle to be safely towed away without any structural damage to bridge. The simplistic analysis of the child in contrast to the engineers’ complex approach had allowed him arrive at an obvious solution. One that had evaded the experts.

I once had a recurring problem with headaches. I had seen many doctors and almost over-dosed on Tylenol pills but still the pain persisted. I would wake up each morning to a throbbing head. One day my mum happened to observe one of my head throbbing moments as I swallowed 2 Tylenol pills to numb the pain. She asked what the problem was and I recited my battle with headaches. I expected her to recommend a specialist or  possibly a CAT scan to see if something in my head had gone awry. But she simply advised me to eat more fruits and to start taking vitamins. “Eat fruits and take your vitamins?” I repeated unbelievably. How could that possibly fix my headaches? I ignored her advice and proceeded to battle my headaches with the usual pill regiment.  One day while shopping at Wal-Mart, the advice of my Mum echoed through my head and I decided to purchase a stock load of fruits and a bottle of multi-vitamin pills. I devoured the fruits and took a dose of vitamins that evening. The next morning, I woke up with no headaches. I repeated the same regimen the following night , and again I woke up with the same results, no headaches. It’s been a while now since I started taking my vitamins and eating fruits, and since then my headaches have reduced drastically. All it took was a little peice of advice from a non-medical expert that trumped the “Tylenol” and “sleep more” advice that I received from numerous specialized doctors.

The situation above reminds me of one of my favorite jokes. A man had severe neck pains, throbbing headaches, and dizzy spells. After a thorough examination, his doctor informed him that he would have to be castrated immediately in order to stay alive. After the surgery was completed he left the hospital and decided to splurge on a tailor-made silk shirt. While measuring him, his tailor said, “That’s a size 17 neck.” “Hold on,” said the man, “I wear a 15 1/2.” The tailor re-measured him: “You’re definitely size 17”. The man insisted: “I’m a 15 1/2. I always wear a 15 1/2, and that’s what I want.” “Okay,” said the tailor, “but if you wear a 15 1/2, you’ll have severe neck pains, throbbing headaches, and dizzy spells!”

Never mistake knowledge for wisdom.

Unfortunately, life  fuses both concepts together, equating knowledge with wisdom. This produces numerous instances where knowledge drowns out the subtle signs of wisdom. In life we would be faced with many challenging problems, we can choose to throw all the knowledge we have in hope of hitting a solution or we could use our wisdom to focus on a solution that consistently solves the problem. Jean M. Blomquist said it best:

“…we need to abandon the idea that wisdom is knowing everything—the whys, the wherefores, the how-tos. Wisdom is often more subtle, both far simpler and exceedingly more complex. For wisdom requires the discerning, the listening to, the acknowledgement of nudges and notions, of senses and sensations, of the minute and what we often mistakenly assume is the mundane. Wisdom means listening to the still, small voice, the whisper that can be easily lost in the whirlwind of busyness, expectations, and conventions of the world….”

The next time you act, act wisely.

Okechukwu Ofili
Africa’s #1 Success Coach
Copyright © 2009 Ofili Speaks, Inc. All rights reserved

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Words by Okechukwu Ofili of ofilispeaks.com
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