Knowledge isn’t Power

Throughout my life, I’ve often been confronted with this simple phrase: “Knowledge is power.” I’ve always assumed it was true. The more you know, the better off you are. The more you know, the more likely you are to succeed. Perhaps ignorance is bliss, but wouldn’t you rather be powerful? Wouldn’t you rather have control? Wouldn’t you rather know all the things that are important, to be able to shape your life carefully and always keep your footing firm?

Knowledge is pretty significant in our world. But does it provide power?

I’m not so sure.

At university, the season of midterms is well underway, and of course this involves preparation: long hours of studying and even longer nights of worrying. That’s what it usually consists of for me… or at least it used to. But the funny thing is, despite the knowledge and despite the preparation, I never felt entirely ready. As I inched towards the unknown, I still felt as though my toes dangled over the edge. I had tried to know everything, to do the absolute maximum in advance. And yet pacification is a fickle art. Success is fickle. No matter what I did, it was not enough. No amount of work beforehand could ever completely reassure me everything would turn out fine.

I sought power. I reached for control by doing all the right things, by going above and beyond the call of duty. But fears lurked anyway. They lingered in the shadowy recesses of my mind, and when I was tired and thought I’d done enough, they whispered, more. There’s always more. You could be, should be doing more.

Another saying you’ve probably heard is, “Just do the best that you can do.” I don’t disagree with this statement in principle- in fact, I use it fairly frequently for self-assurance. When I think about it though, it seems unclear. How do you know when you’ve attained that elusive level of best? Couldn’t we always do better? If I’m constantly striving to do the best I’ll always be running, because none of us are perfect in any of our abilities or desires.

So maybe it’s time to stop doing so much, to stop trying so hard. It sounds strange, because it’s so counter to the philosophy which I’ve always considered common sense. The more you do, the more accomplished you are. The busier you are (or appear), the more you have it all together, the more you have it under control. 

These are lies. But they’re well-worn ones and they seem so good and pure that it’s hard to detect their deception. Lately I’ve been trying to challenge these perceptions. I’ve been trying to spend more time being and less time worrying about checking items off a list. There’s always more I could do, but is it worthwhile wasting my life and time hopelessly pursuing perfection? There are opportunities I’m missing, moments of love and laughter, beauty and joy, treasures I could revel in if I took the time to see them.

Knowledge is power. Learning is extremely beneficial and I’m certainly not attempting to suggest we shut ourselves off from information or shy away from responsibilities and goals. What I am trying to say is this: if knowledge is your only source of power, it might be time to readjust. Because you can never get a firm hold on that kind of earthly identity, and true peace will continue to evade you if you continue trying to make sure you get things right on your own.

For my last two midterm exams, I’ve given what I could in each moment, but I haven’t been perfect and I haven’t expected perfection from myself either. And in that simple act of letting go, there is such sweet relief, such beautiful freedom and so much greater capacity to love and live and enjoy what each day has to offer.

That’s because I’m not in charge of getting power. I’m not in charge of keeping it either.

It’s scary stepping off that cliff. It’s scary falling.

But in that moment, I experienced what true power is all about.