Two kinds of knowledge

There are two kinds of knowledge we can learn at any time. They can be discerned by their effects on our minds. Authoritative knowledge  leads to trouble and wisdom does not.

Authoritative knowledge makes us over-confident. We already have everything figured out. We know how to label the objective evidence "the right way". We see what we expect to see and don't realize how we did that to ourselves. Our framing of the facts is unconscious. We think we are being accurate with our appraisals. We don't see we are subjecting the objects of our attention to our subjective biases. We jump to conclusions and assume we are right.

Wisdom makes us unassuming. The more we know, the less confident we become in any particular viewpoint. Authoritative knowledge appears highly subjective, biased and one-sided once we see it with wisdom. We see how jumping to conclusions misses out on other possibilities. We see patterns, processes and unfolding stories where once knew what was what. Wisdom enables us to enjoy the available mystery, unknowns and suspense in the immediate situation.

When we use authoritative knowledge, we have been conditioned by our culture and condition our perceptions as a result. We think with answers instead of better questions. We categorize things by the way we've been hypnotized. We avoid cognitive dissonance that undermines our fragile sense of composure and self importance.

When we practice wisdom, we are free of our habitual categorical perceptions. We wonder what we're seeing with fascination and innocence. We know enough to not jump to conclusions or make ourselves right. We enjoy the moment rather than try to fix the future.

Learning wisdom is an inside job. We go within with questions in mind. We receive other ways to see what is obvious to us. We challenge our preconceptions and welcome complications. We embrace a pluralism of truths, outlooks and frames of reference. What we learn from authorities gives us the questions to explore by private reflection.

We take to heart what was given to our head trip and come up with wise ways to see what we were told, taught or trained to know.


  1. Tom,
    I like the direction of your reflection. I think a great question to ask is "what does it mean to know something?" or "what is knowledge?"

    I ran into a Principal this summer who blurted out in front of a class I was leading that I already know about leadership...I want some hands on training."

    I was troubled by this attitude... as if knowing something meant you could recall the concepts and discourse of the subject.

    To me, knowing something means that you can apply it. In the case of leadership...which is a never ending means embodying the concepts and the discourse. Plenty of people "know" about leadership and aren't good leaders. It's a shame we have made knowledge so abstract.

    Anyway, I enjoyed your take on "head knowledge" and "heart knowledge".


  2. Pete: It's great to hear from you again. I've faced the same issue many times, when "talking about" leadership was leaving my learners stuck in abstractions. I've found several ways out of that while giving presentations and facilitating discussions. I say something like:

    You already know what leadership is, what traits represent leadership ability and what effects leaders can have. Do you also know:
    -- What to say/do differently when you think you're leading and others are not following your lead?
    -- How to picture your followers in a new light when they are voicing complaints or resisting changes?
    -- What to discover from your followers when your leadership appears weak and ineffectual to them?
    -- How to earn more respect of your followers rather than rely on their gratuitous respect of position, power and control?
    -- What not to do when it appears everyone has lost sight of the mission, fallen into disarray and become disenchanted with their challenge?
    -- How to unify the conflicting interests without imposing a forced consensus that alienates every unique concern?
    -- How to lead by following, serving your following, getting behind those you're leading?

    I hope these questions give you a direction to explore.