What Do You Know?

I don’t remember where or when I first heard it, but the saying, ‘A little knowledge is a dangerous thing’ has stuck in my head ever since that moment.

It has a cousin, ‘I know just enough to be dangerous…’

In the world we live in today, both of these random thoughts have a new resonance. Firstly because, thanks to internet access and Google, everyone knows a little about many, many, many things. And possibly because of this, we seem to have developed a tendency to be sceptical about anyone who knows a lot about… well, anything at all. As if it is just totally not cool, uncalled for, suspect.

Isn’t it strange that, in an age where an unprecedented number of people have access to an unprecedented amount of information, the cultural reaction is to treat being knowledgeable with suspicion?

As if spending that much time acquiring permanent knowledge, stored in your brain, is a bizarre pathology when you can always just google it again. As if there is some better way of spending your time that all that reading and learning is wasting.

Now, I am not interested in the millennial bashing that this observation might bring to mind. I am much more interested in the fact that, without a shadow of a doubt, being truly, fully and wonderfully exceptional at anything requires an enormous depth and breadth of knowledge, practice and experience.

How do we reconcile these two things in a world that is so broken, so in need of change? It seems that the one prevents the other… by being so generalised, we cannot excel in anything. It also means that no-one is exceptional. Which is very politically correct and very egalitarian, but not very efficient. Brings to mind another well-known observation: ‘You can’t make a weak man strong by making a strong man weak.’

We are moving deeper and deeper into the information age where knowledge, wisdom, empathy and creativity are more in need than at perhaps any other time in human history. How we work and earn a living and how we spend our time are all under extreme stress and forces for change.

Can we afford to react as if knowledge is some uncool thing that only the social rejects engage with? How long can we continue to admire idiots who say ‘cool’ things instead of admiring real, deep and wide knowledge that creates amazing connections between previously unrelated objects?

When will we learn to not fear the change that these skills bring, and instead learn to fear the attitude that is so threatened, that ego which sees itself as fixed when nothing in our universe is?

This is the real change that creativity can bring, the real reason it is feared, marginalised, painted into the corners: because it will set you free.
You can actually create the life you want, can find a way to access the resources you need.
But not if you don’t know anything, not if you really, really poor, not if you’re so religious all you do is pray and recite holy texts.
Then you will not change, then this world will not grow and in all likelihood will not survive.

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