I used to drive for a limo service. It wasn’t a bad job: I picked the client up, drove him to the airport, waited patiently for the tip that never came, and drove back to the office wondering why I always expected a tip. Driving in New York and New Jersey? Sure, it sucks, but most jobs do. But I met a lot of interesting and even famous people…if by meant you mean them staring at my head for an hour or so, depending on traffic. Everything in the area depends on the traffic. And that’s where our story begins…
I finally got around to reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? By Philip K. Dick. For all of my bluster and love of fantasy and sci-fi, I’m poorly versed in the classics. This is because I enjoy reading my favorite books repeatedly and finding new insight each time.
But …Electric Sheep reminded me of what I love about the genre: fantasy/sci-fi is the perfect medium for allegory and philosophy (something I try to emulate in my own work). For example, …Electric Sheep is “about” many things, but what grabbed me was its take on the nature of humanity and empathy. There’s also this dystopian gem during a hallucination where the protagonist is speaking with Mercer, the savior figure of the new human religion:
I am and always will be a strong proponent of education. I think that knowledge is power, if not physical power, than personal. It’s one of the keys to wisdom and understanding, something that we all lack.
Wisdom = Knowledge + Experience + Empathy (not a verified equation, just a theory. Work with me here.)
Knowledge and Experience are relatively easy to come by. You study. You live. That’s all there is to it. Empathy? That’s harder to come by. There’s a danger of elitism that comes with knowledge and experience, a “Dark Side” you might say, (especially if you’re a geek like me) and the enemy of Wisdom. It’s something that all people should be aware of.
As people grow in knowledge and experience (what I call “leveling up”), the path can diverge several ways:
- They develop critical thinking skills to match their new knowledge, and are able to discern truth from misinformation.
- They get full of themselves, drunk on their own knowledge. They see their point of view as the only valid one, and anyone that disagrees is either stupid or crazy.
- They find the wisdom to allow other points of view into their mind, process them, and find empathy for those other people.
One of these things is not like the other. One of these things is far too common. Can you guess which one?
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago how my browser and social media sites were sending me articles based on my interests and views. The new information (usually from dubious sources, so many that I’ve added Snopes to my bookmarks bar) I received reinforced what I wanted to believe, rather than what was true. I could’ve fallen into that trap, of having food for thought regurgitated and redigested until it became “truth.” I didn’t. I was lucky to realize what was happening. Unfortunately, I think that most people–no matter how intelligent–don’t. The number of bogus articles and memes posted daily on Facebook reinforces this.
I’m not saying that I’m smarter or somehow better than other people, because I’m not. I’m not a special snowflake, just a regular one. None of us are special snowflakes, we’re all equal. I’m an ordinary guy with virtues and flaws and occasional humor. I had a moment of clarity. But I did learn something:
Knowledge does not make you better than other people. Experience does not make you better than other people. Nothing makes you better than other people. You don’t know others’ lives, their experiences, or their fears. You don’t know what made them think or act a certain way. The moment that you think that you are “better” than someone, you have fallen into the “knowledge paradox.” Your knowledge made you ignorant and dangerous.
A wise person realizes that the more you know, the more you realize how little you know.
So let’s cut the crap and stop the snark. Be kind to people and listen to what they have to say. Even if you don’t agree. Especially if you don’t agree.