For if knowledge is power, then god am… I! Was that over the top? I can never tell. You might recognize this quote from an old batman movie where Jim Carrey plays the Joker, but I have been pondering this saying more and more recently.
My entire career I have worked with my brain. This white collar, code-slinging profession is typical to be called “knowledge work” coined by the famous Peter Drucker who predicted that information would change the way people work — instead of generating value through physical labor, they do it with their minds.
In fact I loosely get paid to read books. It’s the best job in the world. Joking aside, this fact is becoming more and more realized each day I’ve noticed. I’ve only started as a voracious reader over the last few years, and my collection of books is incredible already. I take everything I learn, apply it to my workplace and life, and somehow they keep paying and promoting me for getting more knowledgable each day. This reading thing is contagious too. When people ask for your secret and you tell them that you’re a metamorphosed book with two legs, they reach for the nearest book to start catching up on the years you have ahead of them.
The biggest regret? Not starting sooner. Now it is more a game of time. I won’t get to read everything I want in my lifetime. It’s a sad realization, but one that helps you make calculated decisions about what you should read. In the book reading community there’s a common idea of “DNF” or “did not finish”. I don’t believe in this idea. Every book that I pickup, I see it all the way through. Many books are horrible for the first half and makeup for this experienced dread at the end. The reverse is also true.
You don’t even have to read a book for the contents inside. You can play around with how you decided to choose to read the book. You can read to understand how an author writes about a topic — their style. You can read to see how a book on a topic was organized — its structure. You can read to see how not to do those things even. I haven’t come across a book in the last 300 titles that I’ve curated that I have said “I wish I didn’t finish that book”, because I found other ways to appreciate them.
As you dive into one book, you realize that when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. Life is just one damn relatedness after another. It requires step by step curious persistence. The uneducated and educated man could both read a book of quotations and both be right about how they connect to the world. This acquisition of knowledge is a moral duty.
In my whole life, I have known no wise people who didn’t read all the time — none, zero. Those who I wanted to surround myself with were readers. They valued their time and spared no minute to not be nose-deep into a book. Each and everyone of those people went on to do amazing things. They work prestigious jobs, have beautiful families, and seem realized in their meaning of life.
There’s a great honor in this world to pretend who we want to be. With reading, you can pretend to be in the mind of a person who wrote a book regardless of if they are still alive. You have the superpower of time travel, reading minds, and acquiring great wealth this way. This isn’t to say to value wealth given it is transitory, but rather the reader learns to prefer knowledge for it is perpetual.
When reading Socrates, you might ponder the meaning of “I know that I know nothing” or “Wisdom begins in wonder”. You may come to the same conclusion as I in that the beginning of wisdom starts with that curious persistence to challenge even what you claim to know about this life. That once you can come to the acceptance that you know nothing and your finiteness will never allow you to do so, that it makes you the smartest of them all. You’ve now gained modesty of oneself — humility. The learning can now begin.
Knowledge is power. Knowledge is our stepping stone towards wisdom. Knowledge itself is a power waiting to be conquered. For we are human beings. To be is to do. We must do something with our knowledge in the natural transition to wisdom. This education is a kindling to the fire. But for the fire to roar, we must not be afraid to get burned. May you even burn to ashes in your pursuit of knowledge only to rise more wise from the ashes.