What’s the lowest, and highest, form of knowledge?

by Alan Hosking: Publisher of HR Future, South Africa's human strategy magazine, and a Leadership Renewal Coach for senior executives.
Since the dawn of time, people have had an insatiable desire to learn new things. In other words, they sought to acquire knowledge – they wanted to know what was behind that bush in front of them, what was over the next hill, what would happen if they did or didn’t do this or that…

For thousands of years, much of that desire for learning lay in our need to survive, by avoiding danger and dangerous situations. And much of that insatiable thirst for new knowledge has also enabled us to evolve as a species to the level we have in terms of health, shelter, safety and security, providing for ourselves, connecting with one another, and so forth.

There is no doubt that knowledge has been the means to the comfortable and successful lives generally enjoyed by many people today.

But just as things were starting to look good, up popped another form of knowledge – the wrong kind of “knowledge” – which is now starting to cause dissention, confusion and conflict because of how it is being abused. In some extreme cases, it’s even resulting in unnecessary deaths.

The knowledge I am referring to is what the late Oakland County Republican, Bill Bullard, considered the lowest form of knowledge.

“Opinion,” Bullard said, “is really the lowest form of human knowledge. It requires no accountability, no understanding.”

And Bullard was quite correct. Opinion is not based on fact or evidence. It’s based on whatever a person chooses to assume or believe to be true – something that is often justified by the woke as being “my truth”. Now nobody can argue with you when you’re expressing what you consider to be “your truth”, no matter how detached from reality your truth actually is. And that’s where the problems pop up. That opens the way for an “anything goes” approach to reality.

You see, when someone sets out to deceive others, the first person they deceive is themselves. And then all bets are off because, after that, they’re fair game for any assumption they choose to claim is true or “their truth”. Others, in turn, then have no way to respond to the claims of those living “their truth”.

This explains why there are so many people who are alleged to have engaged in various criminal or corrupt activities who loudly protest their innocence and “deny the charges with the contempt they deserve”. That’s why it’s so important that each of those allegations be tested in a competent court of law.

We therefore have to ensure that all new knowledge we learn is based on sound evidence and not on what we choose to believe to be true simply because that particular “truth” fits our world view.

This brings us to the next challenge concerning knowledge – “knowledge” based on beliefs. Beliefs are defined as “an acceptance that something exists or is true, especially without proof.” Notice the last part – “especially without proof”. Yes, no proof is required for anybody’s beliefs. And beliefs are not confined to religious beliefs only, which are based on faith. They include our beliefs about ourselves and our world, about other people, about what we believe to be possible or impossible, and so on.

Now, the highest form of knowledge, according to Bullard, is empathy. The reason for this, he says, is that “it requires us to suspend our egos and live in another’s world. It requires profound purpose larger than the ‘self’ kind of understanding.”

Do you see where this is going? Empathy is the kind of knowledge leaders should aspire to. In the past, many leaders were driven by their egos and lived in their own world. Their purpose was all about themselves.

Those days are fading fast. If you want to be a leader that has any impact on people today, you’re going to have to learn how to identify the lowest form of knowledge and avoid it like the plague. You’re also going to have to learn how to deal with people who operate on the basis of the lowest form of knowledge. Your challenge will be in learning how to aspire to the highest form of knowledge – putting yourself in the shoes of others and seeing the world from their point of view. When you can do that, like an expert hostage negotiator, you will be able to get people to do what you want them to do with them thinking it was their idea.

That’s what intelligent leadership of the future is all about!

Useful resources:
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