We live in a world awash with information, but we seem to
face a growing scarcity of wisdom.
And what's worse, we confuse
the two. We believe that having access to more information
produces more knowledge, which results in more wisdom.
anything, the opposite is true - more and more information
without the proper context and interpretation only muddles our
understanding of the world rather than enriching it.
This barrage of readily available information has also
created an environment where one of the worst social sins is to
Ours is a culture where it's enormously
embarrassing not to have an opinion on something, and in order
to seem informed, we form our so-called opinions hastily, based
on fragmentary bits of information and superficial impressions
rather than true understanding.
"Knowledge," Emerson wrote,
"is the knowing that we can not know."
To grasp the importance of this, we first need to define
these concepts as a ladder of understanding.
At its base is a piece of information, which simply tells us
some basic fact about the world. Above that is knowledge - the
understanding of how different bits of information fit together
to reveal some truth about the world.
Knowledge hinges on an act
of correlation and interpretation.
At the top is wisdom, which
has a moral component - it is the application of information
worth remembering and knowledge that matters to
understanding not only how the world works, but also how it
should work. And that requires a moral framework of what
should and shouldn't matter, as well as an ideal of the world at
its highest potentiality.
This is why the storyteller is all the more urgently valuable
A great storyteller
- whether a journalist or editor or
filmmaker or curator - helps people figure out not only what
matters in the world, but also why it matters. A great
storyteller dances up the ladder of understanding, from
information to knowledge to wisdom.
Through symbol, metaphor,
and association, the storyteller helps us interpret information,
integrate it with our existing knowledge, and transmute that
once said that,
"reading sets standards."
only sets standards but, at its best, makes us want to live up
to them, to transcend them.
A great story, then, is not about providing information,
though it can certainly inform - a great story invites an
expansion of understanding, a self-transcendence.
that, it plants the seed for it and makes it impossible to do
anything but grow a new understanding - of the world, of our
place in it, of ourselves, of some subtle or monumental aspect
At a time when information is increasingly cheap and wisdom
increasingly expensive, this gap is where the modern
storyteller's value lives.
I think of it this way:
Information is having a library of books on shipbuilding.
Knowledge applies that to building a ship. Access to the
information - to the books - is a prerequisite for the
knowledge, but not a guarantee of it.
Once you've built your ship, wisdom is what allows you to
sail it without sinking, to protect it from the storm that
creeps up from the horizon in the dead of the night, to point it
just so that the wind breathes life into its sails.
wisdom helps you tell the difference between
the right direction and the wrong direction in steering the
A great storyteller is the kindly captain,
who sails her ship
with tremendous wisdom and boundless courage
who points its
nose in the direction of horizons and worlds chosen with
unflinching idealism and integrity
who brings us somewhat
closer to the answer, to our particular answer, to that grand
Why are we here?