It's how we use knowledge that gives us power
The following is adapted from a speech I gave at LO's graduation, May 31.
I used to believe in the idea that knowledge is power, an idea that seems justified by our presence here today. We've sat in classrooms for the last four years to gain knowledge, hoping this knowledge will give us the power to succeed in the outside world. Our diplomas confirm that we've "been educated," that we retain a certain amount of knowledge that this school is obligated to supply us with.
But over the last four years, I've begun to realize that knowledge, by itself, does not necessarily imply power. It is how we use knowledge — taking what we know and transforming it into new ideas — that gives us power.
For example, I can tell you that South Africa has three capitals, but since I don't live in Johannesburg or Pretoria or Cape Town, that knowledge, on its own, isn't really useful. But if, in exploring why South Africa has three capitals, I discover that South Africa has attempted to solve governmental corruption with their three-capital system, there is suddenly an idea attached to that knowledge that I can use and build upon. Knowledge is useful because it creates ideas, and those ideas inspire further knowledge. This process, repeated over and over again, drives our species forward. The marketplace of ideas is superior to any other market on the planet because its products create themselves.
Knowledge is powerful because it begets ideas, but what gives ideas their power?
A couple years ago, I found a possible answer to that question at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. I saw a fabulous rendition of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar." In that play, Brutus explains why he and the Senators kill Caesar, saying, "If [any] friend [of Caesar's] demand why Brutus rose against [him], this is my answer: —Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more."
Rome is not just a place to Brutus. It is an idea — an idea of government and of society that Brutus worries Caesar's ambition will destroy. So, he must make a choice: protect his friend or defend the idea of a city he loves. In the end, Brutus chooses Rome, because, in his words, he "loved Rome more." That is why ideas have power: because we are obligated to protect, defend, and act upon them.
We're about to enter a world far larger than the one we know now, newly equipped with knowledge that may or may not become useful to us in the next few years.
Before I conclude today, I'd like to propose a few questions.
Firstly, what is your Rome? What is that thing that you love so much you'd do anything for? What ideas do you had that you would do anything to defend? What beliefs do you hold so closely to your heart that they affect everything you do? These are the ideas you carry with you as you exit these halls, and they will shape how your life develops. Choose them wisely.
Secondly, what will you do when your beliefs are challenged? Because, inevitably, someone will tell you that Rome has fallen. Your ideas are flawed and your beliefs are false. Your empire has crumbled. You need to move on.
Will you listen to them?
Ideas and beliefs can change. They should change. As our reservoirs of knowledge swell, our ideas should shift in accordance. Nothing is "always" true or "never" true. In the marketplace of ideas, the currency is always in flux.
But no matter how dynamic your ideas may be, you must be prepared to support them. Without passionate individuals defending their ideas, innovation would come to a halt, and in a world built upon the progress of innovation, those who can both adapt and defend their ideas stand the best chance of changing our planet for the
There is a Rome out there for
all of us. It's our job to go and find it.
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