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  • Writer's pictureJim Donaher

Smart, Savvy, Wise

Growing up, it was all about being 'smart,' or 'smaaaht' as we pronounced it.

"Wow, the Miller twins ('the Mill-izz') are ('aaah') really ('wicked') smart ('smaaaht')!" - any classmate of Jane or Janet's.

"Don't you get smart (smaaaht) with me!" - Everybody's mother

Sometimes, though not as often, the substituted term was 'wise' as in, well, wise. (It's a word that is pronounced the same in Quincy, Massachusetts as it is in Bozeman, Montana, so no fun Boston accent gag here).

"What are ('aaah') you, a wiseguy?" - quoting the 1930's prophet, Morris Horowitz, better known as Moe from the 3 Stooges.

We will look at a deeper definition of 'wise' in a moment.

Where I grew up, we didn't use the word 'savvy' but only learned it later on in life. There was no need for it in our lexicon. With smart being the real goal and wise being part of a punch line (or a slap line), we had the whole 'effective brain' topic covered.

As time has passed though, discerning speakers began to draw a more nuanced, tiered approach to intelligence.

On the bottom tier lives the old stand-by, 'smart.'

Being smart is not a bad thing. It means you have a lot of knowledge, can recall it with minimal prompting, and apply it to appropriate conversations.

Smart people can be found on TV every night on Jeopardy. These are the smartest of the smart, combining a ton of knowledge with extreme quickness of mind and button finger (thumb maybe).

What becomes clear with time is that being smart is not enough. There are people everywhere who have an encyclopedic knowledge of one or more topics, and in those realms, they are considered smart.

For example, my one (and only) topic area is 1970's professional basketball. Having devoured almanacs, yearbooks and all the media we had back then, I knew all the names, colleges, uniform numbers, wive's names, nicknames, and teams.

So if your question involves the backcourt of the expansion Cleveland Cavaliers and their starting backcourt of Bobby 'Bingo' Smith and Austin Carr, I can help you.

Or their center, Jim Chones, who played for Al McGuire ('Muh-GWY-uh') at Marquette ('Maaaah-kett' ).

Or where did the Cincinnati Royals go? Well, the moved to Kansas City (and Omaha) to become the Kansas City/Omaha Kings, under the watchful eye of Celtic legend Coach (and momentarily player-coach) Bob Cousy. (PS - the Kings subsequently moved to Sacramento where they are today).

Call it a gift...

I know these and many more things in this narrow lane. By the standard definition, in this area, I am smart.

Do you aspire to be smart like me? Probably not. Why?

There is a good reason: this knowledge is not especially useful.

It hurts me to say this, but this is the first time I've made reference to names like Harthorne Nathaniel Wingo and Lloyd (legally changed his name to World B.) Free in many years.

Had I remained just smart, I probably would have disappeared decades ago. And if I did, chances are good that the ones who made me disappear were savvy.

Savvy people are a step higher than merely smart people. Savvy people may possess knowledge in-depth but what sets them apart is their ability to get things done. They don't just 'know' they 'know how.'

Having been sufficiently annoyed by my arrogant lording of my '70s basketball knowledge, the savvy barflies would have devised a way to make me disappear.

Having savvy, sometimes known as 'street smarts' doesn't require one to be 'smart' as defined above. It doesn't preclude it either, but the savvy person would see immediately that the acquisition of that much depth is neither useful nor efficient. The time and energy required to absorb that much knowledge would not be worth it.

Savvy people who went to college did well. They learned how to get grades, so they only needed to learn what was absolutely necessary to be successful. They didn't cheat (most of them anyway), but they knew what was needed and they did it, saving the rest of their energy to do less savvy things with their leisure hours. Or days.

Smart people sometimes struggled in college. They almost always went, since everyone told them they were 'too smart not to.'

Many of them did just fine, but others ran into the limits of their smart very quickly. Faced with a larger volume of facts and a shorter time to learn them, exacerbated by the fact that some of them were of no interest whatsoever, they floundered.

The smart saw the savvy as opportunists, cheaters, or relatives of the Dean (Or possessing compromising photos of him or her).

The savvy saw the smart as inefficient nerds who were wasting the greatest time of their lives.

The third tier, which is the top of the brain hierarchy, are the wise.

The wise were not prevalent in our youth or in our college years. Children haven't had time to become wise.

In fact, wisdom is the hardest of the three to obtain. It never comes to some. Or they don't notice it.

The Bible says that all we need to do in order to gain wisdom is to ask God for it. This is true, but it also requires one to recognize that they lack wisdom, which paradoxically requires a certain amount of wisdom. Otherwise, why ask for it?

Some think of wisdom is a bunch of old guys with beards who sit around all day thinking. Well, you're in luck. At this moment, on this day, I am an old guy with a beard sitting here thinking. Who better to talk about wisdom?!

In reality, wisdom comes to anyone who seeks it. Anyone who asks God for it and remains open to it when it comes along. Wisdom is not just facts (smart) or skillful navigation (savvy).

Wisdom is balance. It is nuanced. It is shades of grey. It is understanding people, their biases, limitations, and agendas.

Wisdom listens more than it speaks. Wisdom thinks before rendering an opinion. Wisdom is honest and forthright and kind and reasonable. Wisdom will never tell you how wise it is. Or how wise you are not.

Wisdom knows not to say it if it isn't true, necessary and kind (all three).

A great feature of wisdom is you can seem to have it even when you don't. You do this by keeping your mouth shut and your ears open until the wisdom you need shows up. If you are able to do that, you'll be wise very soon indeed.

Dear God,

I pray that you grant us the wisdom we need to carry out your work in the world.

Let our ears, minds, and hearts be open to this clarity and understanding that will inform our actions as well as our decisions not to act.

Let our wisdom enhance our lives and the lives of those around us. Help us to be a good example of what a wise person is, inspiring others to emulate us in this important way.

Thank you for giving generously of your wisdom which is unlimited and perfect.

Thank you for wanting us to be successful and for giving us the tools, including knowledge, savvy, and wisdom to get that done.

In Jesus' name, we pray, AMEN!



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