My latest inquiry surrounds the exploration of the widespread belief that “knowledge is power.” I am teaching a dialogue course this term and one of my students inspired this inquiry through a posting that enlightened my perspective on how limiting that assumption that “knowledge is power” can be. Dialogue asks us to explore collective thought in a way that can expand our horizons of understanding. It is a process of deep inquiry that avoids quick and easy answers and encourages living in the questions.
So the question I am living with is: to what extent does our reliance on knowledge power inhibit our ability to learn and change? For a number of years now, since embracing a new way of being in the world as a continuous learner, I have avoided assuming that I “know.” Rather, I rely on my current understanding, always recognizing that there may be information, other perspectives, insights, and experiences that I have not yet encountered that will change my current understanding of any situation.
I seek to understand through inquiring, searching, exposing myself to new and different experiences and perspectives. This requires me to always keep an open mind, much like that of a child or a learner that is curious and full of wonder, seeking to expand my horizons or world view. Living in this continuous learner stance causes me to seek new experiences. I think this is why I have embraced the study of culture as it brings a lens through which I can interpret the different ways we human beings have made sense of the world and crafted ways of living within it.
In “I stand in place of knowing, relying on my knowledge power,” I restrict my ability to encounter difference with a sense of wonder, to inquire into that which I may not understand, and to form relationships with others different from me who can teach me. Relying too much on knowledge power can also create a fear of not knowing, restricting my ability to take action when I am not confident in my knowledge. If I stand in a place of discovery and learning, I can always rely on the power of inquiry to inform me and the knowledge of others to support me in taking action.
Mary Catherine Bateson’s book Willing to Learn: Passages of Personal Discovery, provides great insight into how we can travel through our lives as continuous learners, exposing ourselves to diverse cultures and experiences, opening our hearts to the wonders that we encounter, sharpen our thinking through understanding systems, and support our learning through reflection and dialogue.
I am blessed to work at Saybrook with a community of learners who are dedicated to creating the conditions in organizations, communities, and societies for humanistic values, systems thinking, and continuous learning to shape a sustainable future. Creating change in a world that is divided and cruel in far too many places requires a strong sense of purpose and commitment to learning. Leading and managing organizations also takes a commitment to learning and a reliance on generative inquiry, dialogue, and collaboration to support us in making sense of the current reality and creating a desired future.