Knowledge is acquired from the world outside, but wisdom comes from deep within, though only after the acknowledgement that we ‘know nothing’
Once, a friend of Socrates—the Greek philosopher and seer—asked the Oracle at Delphi if there was anyone wiser than Socrates. The Oracle replied in the negative. Unlike a mere mortal who would have boasted and gone on an ego trip, Socrates wasn’t pleased when he was told about it. He toured Greece to disprove the statement.
Despite his immense contribution, Socrateswould end up being hounded by the Greek authorities. They accused him of ‘corrupting young minds’. During his last days—before he was poisoned—another friend asked him, ‘You’ve taught extensively over the years. Is it possible to condense everything into a synopsis?’
‘Oh, I can condense the entire teachings into one line,’ Socrates smiled as he replied.
Even as the friend took those words as a joke, Socrates added, ‘There’s only one thing I know.’
Socrates’ statement astounded the friend. Here was the philosopher who had gained recognition beyond Greece. His words had turned into tomes that future generations would refer to. And he says he knows only one thing. Filled with curiosity, the friend wondered, ‘One? Really?’
Socrates smiled and said, ‘All I know is that I know nothing.’
His friend smiled, not because hecomprehended the meaning but with an intent to dismiss the statement. Many philosophers even dub this episode ‘Socrates’s ignorance’. Like Socrates’s friend and the Greek authorities, they have no idea.
This lack of understanding alienated a seer. No wonder they convicted him.
Let’s not fall into this trap and understand that this statement comes not from ignorance or senility.It stems from the highest peak of wisdom. The West might call it the Socratic paradox, seeing it as his ignorance even while recognising wisdom in it. The East, though, would understand, with its ancient seers making similar statements.
It speaks about the extrinsic limitations compared to the intrinsic limitlessness of the soul.
May we remember these golden words while performing action and also whenpuffed up with our ‘achievements’. Knowledge is acquired from the world outside, but wisdom comes from deep within. However, for that, there must first be an acknowledgement that we ‘know nothing’. That little gesture works as a magic potion. It facilitates wisdom’sflowering.
Rajessh M. Iyer is a storyteller who explores human relationships through meaningful anecdotes, parables, and stories; he shares his work on www.rajesshmiyer.com.