Often attributed to the father of empiricism Sir Francis Bacon, the phrase, "knowledge is power" (according to Wikipedia) has a very colorful past mired between science and religion (Bacon's attribution was actually referring to knowledge of the power of God as revealed through scripture whereas Thomas Hobbes (an understudy of Bacon's) denotes an understanding of the nature of man).
The first line in HHDL's The Art of Happiness is simply, "I believe that the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness." I would argue with the man for I was raised with a very different set of strict guidelines as to what was not only right and wrong, but also what was expected of me as I worked my way through first private, then public school, summer jobs, college, the military, government contracting and corporate America. Very few stops along the way were designed for me to "seek happiness" except in the very narrow constraints of whichever hierarchy I happened to be in at the time, and they were all different. What I am lauded for in the corporate world I was disciplined for in the military. And yet every once in a while along the way I was encouraged for my out-of-the-box thinking.
So I got to wondering, if knowledge is power, and the purpose of life is to seek happiness, then does happiness come about through knowledge? Its counter-intuitive to self-improve if we are happy with where we are, and have no knowledge of ourselves - yet that is not sustainable. Too many things change too often for "where we are" to be a static foundation. When that foundation shifts, cracks or erodes away (and given enough time it most certainly will) where do we then find ourselves?
Only through constantly questioning our behaviors, actions, motives, beliefs and values can we discover where we are, choose where we want to go, and most importantly, adjust the path we're on to get there. I reject that anyone is on any path that brings them true happiness without constant reevaluation because happiness is an ever-evolving thing within us which needs to be fed through experience and growth.
- If we receive a piece of new information and choose to discard it after careful consideration, that reinforces that we're on the right path.
- If we receive a piece of new information and choose to alter course after careful consideration, it helps keep our compass straight and true.
Only by dismissing that which may ultimately be knowledge do we run the risk of ending up somwhere we don't wish to be. We should always actively seek that we're heading the right direction - and this is not always easy. Then again neither is fleeting happiness - extrinsic things which can be given and taken away, or that which is based an elusive illusions.
The objects that we find security in will be different for everyone. These are the things in our life that are hardest to get rid of because of the psychological sense of security that they carry with them. It’s not really that they do anything for us, but we just get accustomed to having them around and it feels strange to imagine life without them.
When you go looking for a sense of security in physical things, you simply won’t find what you’re looking for. Instead, look for a true sense of security in people, in relationships, and in time well spent. When you can learn to let go of the physical things you’ve attached your sense of security to, you’ll realize a freedom waiting for you. In time you’ll realize you don’t miss them.*
Thought has created all the various forms of illusion - nationalities, class, different gods, different beliefs, different dogmas, different rituals and the extraordinary religious superstitions that pervade the world - and in them it has sought security. And one does not see the danger of this security, of this illusion. When one sees the danger - not as an idea but as an actual fact - that seeing is intelligence, the supreme form of absolute security. So there is absolute security: it is to see the truth in the false.*
Knowledge then, in and of itself is not power. But it is the potential for power. It requires action. Its not enough to be on the rails of one track while simply identifying momentarily parallel tracks. At some point - we must jump. Not all course corrections are as easy as adjusting the rudder of a ship a single degree. Sometimes we have to jump from one train to another, and this will take courage - and entirely intrinsic undertaking, for courage comes solely from within. Remember, it's not the change that's painful, it's the resistance to change that is painful - and that brings us back to fear.