Knowing Versus Doing
When I was in college I had a professor who knew just about everything. He could intelligently articulate some knowledge on nearly any subject. It was soon after entering his Urban Studies class that I discovered how this was so. His office consisted of three very large rooms filled to the brim with books. And I don’t mean books stacked neatly on shelves like you might find at your local Border’s Books. I mean, no-room-to-walk, filled with books. I’m sure he had upwards of 10,000 books, magazines and newspapers crammed in those three rooms.
The first time I visited his office, I asked had he read all those books. Without hesitation he said, “Yes.” I don’t know why but it struck me as one of the best things I’d ever heard. The pursuit of knowledge in and of itself just appealed to me. I thought to myself, “I want to know all there is to know about a bunch of stuff. I’m going to have a library like this too.” Over the next twenty years (sigh!), I’ve accumulated a hodgepodge collection of books, newspapers and magazines. And yes, I’ve read most of these items in whole and all at least in part.
As was my goal, over the years I’ve accumulated a lot of knowledge over a modest array of topics. However, as I’ve gotten older and perhaps a natural byproduct of doing so, I’ve become less interested in learning about a wide range of topics. I haven’t thought about that change too deeply, but every now and again the thought pops in my head as to why this might be so. I’ve brushed it off as simply being in a reading slump or being occupied with other things. But I’m also filled with the thought it’s more to it.
Recently I watched (re-watched) the movie “The Edge” starring Sir Anthony Hopkins (Charles) and Alec Baldwin (Robert). Charles was a well read and broadly knowledgeable billionaire. In one scene he speaks about skills applicable to survival in the northern wilderness with an innkeeper, while visiting Alaska. The innkeeper asks if Charles has a lot of experience in the wilderness and Charles explains, with some self-disappointed, his knowledge is theoretical. In an earlier scene, when Charles was complemented by Robert for this broad knowledge, Charles explained he had no practical use for his knowledge. Clearly, Charles despite being well accomplished, was less impressed with himself than others were with him having failed, in his mind, to accomplish the “unequivocal” act in his life. (Like becoming a billionaire wasn’t enough.)
As the movie progresses Charles, Robert and Robert’s aide (played by Harold Perrineau of Lost and Oz fame) are put in a situation where Charles’ theoretical knowledge is put to the test. Without giving the movie away (it has several other sub-plots and is definitely worth a Netflix), Charles experiences some success in converting the theoretical to the practical. When it’s all said and done, it’s only after he’s put to these tests that he feels any sense of real accomplishment.
When I saw this movie in its theatrical release I failed to fully understand the nuances of what Charles was going through. His feeling of defeat despite being extraordinarily accomplished simply wasn’t fulfilling. He needed to test the knowledge he had in the real world. In a swift rush of “Ah-ha!”, I identified the couldn’t-put-my-finger-on-it feeling I was having. I have a bunch of knowledge but I have failed to practically apply much of it. Thus there is this bubbling need in me to DO instead of just KNOW. Basically,
Books is for reading, life is for doin’.
As I approach a milestone age for me and with the next decade on the horizon, my life will become a grand lab experiment. I have the knowledge, I know what to do, now it’s time, it’s past time, to do it.