“You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.”
- Naguib Mahfouz
A clever man will always tell you answers. He will tell you things you may not even care about. His purpose is to impress. To be more accurate, his purpose is, like that of Narcissus, to see himself reflected in the reaction on your face. It may be arrogance, hubris or insecurity that causes him to seek a reaction from you. You are the fulfillment of the need of a clever man. You are the audience that satisfies his need.
A wise man will not try to convince you of anything. A wise man is trying to build himself, not to build you. He asks questions because he wants to learn more. He needs to learn more because he is aware of how little he knows about so many things. He is aware less of what he knows than of what he does not yet know.
A wise man will not proselytize you. If you are willing and eager, he may guide you to find your own answers. He will not push you because he is on his own quest.
Then we have those who are neither clever, wanting to convey to us how much they know, nor wise. They do not ask questions. They wish to give the impression that they know as much as they need to know.
They have learned from the ethics of business that they should “never let them see you sweat.” Never give the impression that you don’t know. When you don’t know, fake it. Pretend. Most times the others won’t know that you don’t know.
While that is the apparent ethic of business, it’s not a real one. The person who doesn’t ask questions and who doesn’t know will never rise against the competition because deep down the others know the truth. The ones who know will reach where they want to go.
The ones who do not ask questions don’t try to learn. They remain ignorant. Comfortably ignorant, as they persuade even themselves that they know as much as they need to know.
Yet they are always poor. Poor of spirit because they think of themselves first. Poor of intellect because they close doors of opportunity to learn. Poor of character because they deceive even themselves, thus have no hesitation about deceiving others.
A wise man will share what he knows. But you will have to ask. Otherwise he will be busy.
He has his own quest. He will assume that you have your own.
Source: Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, striving to show the difference, by Bill Allin