The Primary DIfference Between the Wise and Foolish

A few weeks ago, a business acquaintance called to discuss a challenge he was facing at work. As usual, I began with a few questions, trying to understand the context and the issues involved.

A Jester’s Hat - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #7888135

Photo courtesy of ©

It quickly became apparent that he didn’t want to change. In fact, the entire conversation was about why he couldn’t change, why he didn’t need to change, and why he wasn’t responsible for the results he was getting.

Ten minutes into the discussion, I realized I was dealing with a fool. There was no point in continuing the conversation. More talk would not change anything.

In Chapter 7 of his book, Necessary Endings, Dr. Henry Cloud deals with the difference between wise people and fools. It has given me clarity about something I have struggled with for years.

The difference between a wise person and a fool is not about:

  • Position. Plenty of business leaders, pastors, and politicians are fools. Conversely, I have met wise executive assistants, gardeners, and even one shoe shine man.
  • Intelligence. I know fools with masters degrees and Ph.Ds. Some of them teach in universities and have written books. Conversely, I know wise people who never graduated from high school and a few who can’t read.
  • Talent. I know fools who are successful entrepreneurs, worship leaders, and television pundits. I know wise people with average talent and modest income.

According to King Solomon, there is one major thing that differentiates a wise person from a fool: how he or she receives instruction and correction. (See, for example, Proverbs 1:5; 9:8–9; 10:8; 12:15; 15:12; 17:10; and 19:20.)

A wise person:

  1. Listens without being defensive.
  2. Accepts responsibility without blame.
  3. Changes without delay.

If you are dealing with a wise person, talking is helpful. They soak up feedback and use it to adjust their lives for the better. Your input can truly make a difference.

If you are dealing with a fool, however, talking is a waste of your time. They resist change. The problem is never “in the room.” It’s always out there somewhere—something you can neither access nor address.

I have always wondered why some conversations never seem to go any where. Instead, I am left confused and frustrated. Now I know. This inevitably happens when you are talking with a fool.

By the way, this doesn’t mean that you have to write fools off. Instead, you have to change strategies. More talk won’t help a fool. Instead, you must:

  1. Stop talking.
  2. Provide limits.
  3. Give consequences.

If this topic interests you, I recommend you read Necessary Endings. Honestly, it is one of the best books I have read in the last year. Thanks to my friend, Robert Smith, for recommending it.

Question: Can you see this distinction in your own life and in the lives of those you interact with? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Diane Yuhas

    I am typically defensive at first, then think it through later on, and finally, taking the silver from the dross, I change.

  • Jennifer J

    Id rather the fool got frustrated and stopped talking to me. Id want to make every effort…

  • Mike Hansen

    And wisdom, naturally also requires a good degree of humility. In fact, humility must accompany wisdom or I don’t think it’s wisdom.

    Thanks again for sharing.

  • Uma Maheswaran S

    True Mike ! The entire book of Proverbs talks about wisdom and foolishness. As I read this post, I am reminded of the writings of Ray Ortlund Jr. from his book ” Proverbs: Wisdom that Works” (page 28) about wisdom:

    “Wisdom is more than brains. It is more than morals. We could memorize the whole Bible, and mean it from the heart, without wisdom. Wisdom is skill, expertise, competence that understands how life really works, how to achieve successful and even beautiful results. We see a picture of wisdom in Exodus 35:31, where the word translated “wisdom” in Proverbs 1:2 is used for the skill of an artist adorning the tabernacle. We see wisdom in Jeremiah 10:9 where the expertise of goldsmiths is called “the work of skilled men,” or wise men. We see wisdom in Psalm 107:27 for the know-how of sailors, who use the winds and tides to make their way through the sea to their destination. Whether craftsmanship working with the materials of life or seamanship steering through the currents of life, so to speak, wisdom understands how real life can work well. Wisdom knows better than to walk onto the football field and hope the game will go well somehow; wisdom draws up a game plan that will score more touchdowns than the opponents because that plan takes into account not only the rules of the game but also psychology and timing and strategy and everything it takes to win. That is wisdom.” 

  • Patricia Sherrett-Gonzalez

    Proverbs 12:15 teaches us that, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise.”
    The fool does not know that all that he knows is not all there is to know. This is the crux of the matter. As long as he believes that he knows it all there is no place left for the deposit of good counsel since the fool’s cup is already full of foolishness. Isn’t this a haughty spirit?

  • Jeremy

    Absolutely fabulous read.  Spot on identification of a fool vs a wise person.  This work proves helpful to grow in discernment.  Thank you for recommending it.

  • UK Fred

    I have enjoyed Henry Cloud’s video on “The Process of Dealing With a Fool”.  It is about 10 minutes that is both very entertaining as well as communicating wisdom.

  • Anonymous

    Great contemplation for the week ahead…and then some.

    Thanks Michael,


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  • Miranda

    You know, somehow deep down, have always known this, probably even recognized it, but I’ve never had it put into words like this before; I’m thankful you did. It also goes to show the Wisdom one can derive from studying the Word of God – New testament and Old. What I can add is this: if you want wisdom, ask of the Lord. He said in James 1:5 that He would give generously without finding fault. He doesn’t remember the sins you’ve committed, or how foolish you’ve been in the past, He just gives it to you so that then on you can be wise. I pray this prayer everyday, and I can testify that the Lord has been faithful in showing me better ways to live, that bring a harvest of good living. I recommend God for everyone – find God, find Wisdom.

  • Yvonne Seballo

    That information was needed. I have been a fool for years- forever resisting technology. I won’t even send text messages. My smart phone is smarter than I am.

  • Bmwbear129

    Sure Can!!  Once again relating this to the fast food employee industry…there are those who listen and those who don’t.  Those who follow rules and those who find ways around them.  I had being the “bad guy” and having to set boundaries and follow-thru on policies when I know the employee is better than that.  What you say here is of uptmost realism!!

  • Yetunde

    Nice post!

    A lot of times, people think in terms of smart (IQ)/dumb instead of wise/foolish.  Biblical wisdom helps you to avoid foolish choices and make wise choices.   It was definitely very foolish to remove the Bible from public school.

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  • Qureshibadshah

    Yes! i have observed and experienced such situation in my own social life.
    After getting this knowledge, i cleared many confusions. 

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  • libboy

    I have ignorently follow the second advice after realizing I had been dealling with a fool. Thanks for the recomendation. will surely get a copy.