The arrogance of knowledge

It is common for university students to think that they “know it all.” As far as they know, they’re right. Contemporary education encapsulates a little bundle of knowledge and gives a very shiny diploma to those who understand that bundle well enough.

That is an imperfect system. Students are taught (not explicitly but implicitly) that there is a definite quantity of information to be learned, that it can all be learned, and that you can arrive at a state of completion. A student nearing the end of a successful, lifelong career in studying would be hard pressed to find reasons not to be arrogant. After all, he learned everything, and has nearly arrived at the final confirmation of his mastery over all knowledge.

Here are three truths that dispel the three fallacies above:

  1. There are no limits to knowledge. The more we know, the more we discover that we do not know. It’s a simple concept, but Dunning-Kruger explains 80% of human interactions.
  2. Because there is an unknown quantity of information to be learned, we do not know if we can learn it all. But it’s probably a good guess that you cannot.
  3. Since there is no way you can learn it all, you are never done learning. Yes, you have your diploma. You’re certified to know the very basics. Grats. If you never learn anything else, you’ll never be any smarter than a recent college grad (do you know poorly most employers esteem the intelligence of a typical recent grad?).

Bonus truth: you forget very easily. I took 30 credit hours of classes to meet the requirements for my undergraduate major. I can recall maybe 30 bits of information, and I’m sure I’d recognize quite a bit more, but the truth is that we all forget even very important things.

As a potential tonic for your knowledge-induced arrogance, ponder the three point above, and chase it down with a brief viewing of this 2:33-long video on the topic of Olēka:


How to fix your broken friendships in nine easy steps

1. Recognize that you have messed up. Words said and deeds done, or words unsaid and deeds forgone, hurt and disappointed those to whom you had a responsibility to love. This first step is unpleasant, but it won’t become easier with time.

2. The consequences are irreversible. Your friends’ perception of you has changed; further changes can add, but not remove, to that perception. History is fact. This is a difficult intellectual concession to make, but it is necessary to understand the true impact of your failure.

3. Recognize that such failures are human. You are not perfect, and neither are they. Such problems will occur to all, and aplenty, and everyone has played the role on either side of those irreversible events. This will help in the following crucial step:

4. Forgive yourself. You won’t be able to continue in this process without it. You won’t make it through life, either, if you allow guilt to crush you. You’ll properly show your sorrow in a short while, but not if you can’t forgive yourself. After all, if you can’t do it, why ask the offended party?

5. Beg forgiveness. This is humbling. It’s entirely out of your control whether the people you hurt or disappointed will want to let bygones be bygones, whether they will ever trust you again, or whether they will even want to have anything to do with you. So beg, and appeal to God that they might not harden their hearts against you.

6. Demonstrate a fundamental change in yourself. Go to any length to reassure your friends that you do not take them for granted and will not fail them again. They say that a bone, once broken, can be stronger at the mended fracture than before. So is friendship. Your commitment to doing what is hard for the sake of your friends might instill a greater love for you than if you had simply never offended in the first place. You will find that to the measure you truly grieve your error, to the same degree you will be glad to pay this penance.

7. But if all this is not so, if you have truly ruined your friendships and they no longer want you to be part of their lives, move on. You’ve done enough harm. Perhaps go far, or perhaps just far enough that they do not object to your presence. The important thing is that if the friends you hurt do not want you near, you must respect their wish. As small and insufficient an atonement it might be, it is all you can give.

8. Get support from anyone who is willing to help. Don’t underestimate the benefit of using a kind and supportive voice. In a sense, you’re a victim of your own error, since you also are suffering from it. You don’t have to do it alone, you know. Receiving help will not invalidate your earnestness.

9. Find new friends. Start something new. You’ve learned a great and dearly-purchased lesson in friendship. Don’t keep it locked up where it has no value, but go give it to someone else. It will help with forgiving yourself, with moving on, with living outside of the shadow of guilt. And when next someone hurts or offends, you’ll remember this and be more than happy to forgive.