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Is “Knowing” Really Enough? You Tell Me

Recently I heard a phrase that tickled my brain and I continue to reflect upon its meaning and implications. I heard it while attending the opening ceremony of Hampshire College, the undergraduate institution where our daughter just matriculated as a freshman in Amherst, Massachusetts. Introductory comments were offered by a school senior who was noteworthy not just for her inspiring and well-articulated remarks, but as well for the brightness of her spirit and its apparent manifestation as a fluorescent rainbow-colored haired coiffure. She offered comments on her senior student “thesis” regarding the neurobiological foundations of current happiness research and its global inter-cultural and financial implications. During her talk she spoke of the college’s motto, “Non Satis Scire.” The translation is “To know is not enough.” As she described the inter-departmental and interdisciplinary nature of “her work,” and how it included visiting 20 countries as part of her research, I found myself in awe. I was initially aware of a sense of envy, comparing the limitations I had felt during my undergraduate education attending a secluded “college on the hill.” Over time however, the ripples of her story and the implications of “to know is not enough” have continued, having me more deeply ponder the broader nature of education, learning, understanding and living.

I admit that while I consider myself a trainer, a teacher, and an educator, I do not have a degree in education nor have I ever had the honor or privilege of serving as faculty at a higher level academic institution. The idea that learning new information will somehow expand the quality of life is a well- accepted one. We are told that continuing our education will expand the opportunities available to us in life, vocationally, financially etc. There is a great body of research that shows that to be true, there is no denying that fact as a whole, though it does not translate to every individual as we well know. Leaning new information is a primary accelerator of neuroplastic change, in other words creating new and more synapses in our brains that is implicated in staving off memory loss and even increasing the size of our neurocortex. That being said, is learning new information and creating increasing neuronal connections enough to create a happy, healthy and balanced life? Is “knowing” enough?

Frequently when I lead trainings, whether it is an EFT training or a Right Brain Aerobics workshop, I ask the question, is knowing enough? So let me ask you. Has knowing what you should do to improve your health actually been enough to create real and enduring change? Has knowing the implications of lack of physical activity been enough to have you change your exercise level? Has the knowledge of the links between a diet excessive in sugar-laden, carbohydrate rich foods and Type 2 diabetes been enough to have you make real dietary changes? Has knowing that your spouse hates when you interrupt them been enough to have you give up that well-worn habit? I pose the same question to psychotherapists and substance abuse counselors regarding “is knowledge enough” and nearly unanimously their response is that a client’s knowing what they should or should not do is rarely enough to effect significant change.

So in this issue I will pose the question to you the reader…What else do you think is necessary beyond knowledge and information to effect a change in behavior in an individual or a group? For you is it:

  • The emotional support of a person or group?
  • Persistence?
  • Direct experience of a new behavior?
  • Removing reminders or triggers of an old behavior?
  • A strong intent or commitment to effect a change?
  • Reaching a point where the current status is too painful?

I look forward to your personal insights and with permission will share them in the next issue. Thanks for reading!

Dr Craig Weiner