“Knowledge is Power”
The famous quote attributed to Sir Francis Bacon (what an awesome last name!!) and repeated by many others since, has long been one of my core beliefs.
But while I was visiting my family in Germany in December, I had a chat with my sister which reminded me of another conversation we had over the phone a while ago. And thinking about these two separate, but related, conversations made me question my “knowledge is power” belief.
I believe that knowledge enables us to make the right decisions and to live our best possible lives. Knowledge about the world we live in, about how things work, about other people, and knowledge about an area of expertise that enables us to earn a living, empowers us to navigate life and be valuable and happy members of our societies. On top of that, knowledge about ourselves, our values and beliefs, our preferences and priorities and our strengths and weaknesses empower us to design and live a life that will be fulfilling and happy.
So yes, knowledge is power!
But lately, I've been starting to think that maybe this simple three-word statement is incomplete.
Because, let’s face it, just because we ‘know’ something, it doesn’t always mean that it’s true and right.
In the 1970s, everyone ‘knew’ that sugar was a great and healthy way to give kids (and adults) extra energy.
Up until 50-60 years ago, we ‘knew’ that asbestos was a highly valuable and efficient insulation material.
There was a time when people ‘knew’ that the world was flat.
Most people still ‘know’ that Christopher Columbus discovered America (the first European to land in America is widely accepted by historians to be the Viking explorer Leif Erikson).
There are many more examples of where common knowledge was later proven wrong or incomplete. But it’s not just common knowledge that sometimes turns out to be wrong. I think we can all think of examples where we had to admit that our personal believes and knowledge turned to out to be incorrect.
Which takes me back to the conversation I had with my sister. I think it was about 12 months ago that we were on the phone, talking about diets and how to shed that persistent extra weight we both struggle with. She mentioned that not eating breakfast works well for her. I told her that I don’t think that’s a good strategy because I ‘knew’ that eating regularly and at least three meals a day is healthiest and best for us. When I was back in Germany this past December, we had a similar conversation, but I argued quite differently. Because, today, I ‘know’ I was wrong 18 months ago. I've since learned new facts and experimented more with it myself and have learned that skipping meals, or even fasting for 24 hours and more, is a very efficient and healthy (if done right) way to shed some weight and improve overall well-being for some people (note the importance of “if done right” and “for some people” in this sentence!!).
This made me think of other examples where my ‘knowledge’ had turned out to be wrong or incomplete.
Five years ago I gave my then manager a hard time because I didn’t want to get on board with the new hot-desking policy at the office. I simply ‘knew' that I couldn't be productive and do my best work unless I had my own, permanent desk in a familiar environment. Today, I work from anywhere – cafes, libraries, various offices, my campervan, the beach – and I'm super productive.
When I was a teenager and young adult, I ‘knew’ I’d be happy if only I could lose weight. Turns out I was wrong. I had to find happiness to be able to lose weight.
Ever since I started drinking (and loving) coffee, I've 'known' that I wouldn't like black coffee. Recently I tried it and turns out I was wrong. Now I start most of my days with a black coffee.
I could probably go on for days, maybe even weeks, with this before I would run out of examples of where I have been wrong even though I was convinced at the time that I was right.
When I think about these examples now, I realise that even though the knowledge felt like power at the time, it really wasn’t.
In fact, in some cases the knowledge I thought I had got in the way of being the best I could be, and of being happy.
The real power came from learning new facts, making new experiences, trying things even if I thought I wouldn't like them, and being open to admitting that I was wrong. The real power came from evolving, from changing my mind.
I don't think I would be living the amazing life I have today if I had simply held on to my beliefs and my knowledge. I don't think I would be as happy as I am and as content with my life if I hadn't been open to new facts and open to admitting that I was wrong.
Saying that “knowledge is power” is missing an important part.
The fact is, a lot of what we know to be true, later turns out to not be so true after all. We live in a world that constantly evolves. Super smart people are constantly researching and discovering new insights. We all change and grow all the time.
As I write this, I think about all the things I ‘know' right now that might well turn out to be wrong in the future. Maybe I learn something new and find that I don't really want to be a writer after all. Maybe everything I've learnt and know to be true about healthy eating gets disproven or replaced with something even better soon. Maybe all the marketing advice I'm giving to my clients right now turns out to be lacking and insufficient in a few years' time simply because the world and the business environment keeps changing.
I've often felt, and said, that I think gaining knowledge about myself and life in general was the key thing that has helped me turn my life around and find happiness. I still believe that, but what I've realised is that it's not ‘knowledge' that's the important part but ‘gaining'.
It isn’t the knowledge I had or have that was so valuable on my journey but the fact that I kept on learning and that I continuously gained new knowledge. It's the fact that I read book after book, that I challenged my own thinking and beliefs, that I was willing to admit that I might have been wrong about some things. That's what made the difference to me. That's what continues to empower me to live life to the fullest, and it's what gives me the confidence that I will have a great and happy life.
I still believe that knowledge is important. But I think real power, real happiness comes from continuous learning and openness to change.
Knowledge is great. But learning is power.