Virtue is Knowledge; Wickedness is Ignorance

Challenged
My tranquility was once again disturbed by a friend. One day she called me to help her out in her assignment. Being a close friend, I quickly answered yes. But when I started reading the seven different dicta of seven ancient philosophers, I also started to panic. I love the subject, yes…Philosophy for me contains the most exciting but also the most exhausting things to ponder about. How can I simply establish rational reaction to these philosophers’ words of wisdom without given enough time to ponder deeply? My ungenerous friend did not give me the luxury of time: she wanted me to deliver my quick reaction in two days. So I attempted.

Of those ‘Words of Wisdom” from different philosophers, one struck me like no other: According to Socrates,

“All vice is the result of ignorance, and that no person is willingly bad; correspondingly, virtue is knowledge, and those who know the right will act rightly.”

My quick reaction was to disagree, of course. I began my argument with the assumption that knowing is separate from acting. Meaning, our knowledge can be used for both good and bad. It is the choice of the person who possesses the knowledge where he’s going to use it.

Let’s look at the obvious. Many people who know too much use their knowledge in wickedness. Therefore, Socrates was wrong. Or was he?

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See you on the next pages. 🙂

Educated to Criticize?

I don’t get it!

In the past few days, I showered you with Droplets of excerpts from the book of Dale Carnegie. Most excerpt I chose bring with it a sense of universal, timeless, and very self-evident truths embedded in every note of its tone whenever you try to articulate it.

Universal means that those principles are supposed to be understood in every culture regardless of whether you come from the East or from the West, or from anywhere. Timeless means that whether you are from the stone age, agricultural age, from the industrial age, or from our present internet or information age, these truths remain truths. Self-evident in simpler term means “obvious”—you don’t need empirical researches, or extensive studies, you don’t need to be masters or doctors of certain discipline, you don’t need any title or position to at least observe that these principles are true to most of us; you only need to be open-minded and humble in order for you to recognize these truths.

However, given its powerful description of having universality, timelessness, and obviousness, still many people, including educated people don’t get it. And that is what I don’t get. That exactly is what I don’t understand!

Why is it that despite our society’s enormous knowledge of many things around and about us, these knowledge seem to be so enormously inadequate too, inadequate to at least recognize very obvious, universal truths that have been existing for maybe thousands of years?

Encounters

One night, I was having a conversation with a crying 17-year-young woman who has been severely criticized for something she didn’t do. The following morning, just fifteen hours later, I was listening to an adult lady having exactly the same predicament. At first, she tried hard not to appear weak or hurt, well at least in her face. But eventually the impact of pain kicked in. She burst into tears…into reasonable tears. These two ladies are not friends, they come from different worlds—one a teenager; the other, an adult—yet they are experiencing very similar painful situations. Both are emotionally hurt.

It’s so saddening that the people who hurt them are highly educated people. And they were supposed to be the people who would be considered as “friends” and “mentors.”  By default, their titles and professions suggest that they must be people who can be trusted. Yet they betrayed the trust of these two ladies in different occasions by being too judgmental and by delivering sharp, uncalled for, and very bitter criticisms.

Why?

Is that what our modern sophisticated, full-packed systems of education teach us? By learning too many advanced academic subjects and focusing too deeply on mastering them, we forget the obvious, the basic, the more powerful lessons! Of course, not all educated people are like that, but I guess most of us are. Yes, including me. I cannot deny that I also criticize too much. I criticize more than I praise. How about you in your daily life? Do you praise more than you criticize?

What is the use of education if all we can learn are academic matters instead of life matters? What is the use of education if it develops pride and prejudice to us…pride and prejudice that will make us criticize other people just because we don’t agree with them?

We have learned so much about the technical side of life—mathematics, literature, science, arts, and many other subjects in between—but have we learned not to throw sharp, bitter and useless criticisms? Have we learned yet not to become judgmental to others?

Does our modern education help us develop the knowledge, attitude and skill NOT to criticize others, but instead understand them? Where is the proof?

Technology and Society

How does technology affect other areas of our life?

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Is the visible world around us all there is?” My favorite author Philip Yancey circles around this question in his book Rumors of Another World. I like that thought-provoking book. It explores the possibility of another world that coexists in our physical world. It challenges me to continually pay attention to the bigger picture we call life. It makes me always aware of many other unseen and unexplored realms that are in constant contact with every aspect of our life that are equally important.

Technology for easier life

It is a common acknowledgement that tools are purposely designed to make people’s tasks easier. Since technology is considered as a tool, it follows that technology is developed to make our lives easier. Well, I don’t argue against that. We are surrounded by tools everywhere…and that significantly makes our many tasks easier. I no longer need to roam around the city streets to look for tools. Inside my small room I have electric fan, exhaust fan, lockers, bookshelf, single and double beds, chair, floor and ceiling, walls, pens and papers, and everything else that I can touch, measure, and count—they are all designed to make my life in this planet easier. Even this very computer that I am using in writing this article makes my tasks more efficient and less tiring. In general terms, all of those things that I use inside my room are all tools—they are products of technology—designed to make lives easier and more efficient. I totally agree.

However, I am in constant quest as to why we want easier life instead of stronger one, instead of more significant, more meaningful one. Why? That part I honestly don’t understand. Is our physical world around us—the world that has already been conquered by artists and scientists—all there is? Is that all we have? If not, why focus too much in its mastery? Sadly enough, our society, with all its old and modern technology obviously suggests that that’s all there is—nothing more.

Society and its intricately woven parts

Stephen Covey’s books 7 Habits, The 8Th Habit, and Principle-Centered Leadership tremendously altered the way I see myself, other people and the society as a whole. As frequently as I reflect about my life, I am constantly reminded of my four dimensions as a person: my body, heart, mind, and spirit. No matter how much I concentrate on one dimension, if I stubbornly neglect the others, I won’t be a whole person, I won’t be complete.

The four dimensions are not exclusive for people. Organizations are like people in a way that every organization has its own unique personality, that is, organizations have body, heart, mind, and spirit as well. Societies are not exempted either. They are just bigger and more complicated. Societies, like people and organizations also have physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects. It’s just that they are more complex, maybe due to its size compared to a single person. It doesn’t matter whether one is a person or an organization or a society there is always a lingering pattern: they all have body, heart, mind and spirit.

What is the connection? When we say that technology makes our life easier, do we mean life as described through the four dimensions? Or are we simply succumbed only to the dimension that is seen, measured, and those that we can control—the physical dimension?

Technology is a tool. It is neutral. Meaning, we can use technology to make life easier; but we can also use it to make life miserable. It’s up to us. Tools are designed to be used in certain ways. There are always Do’s and Don’ts. Users should always be informed or sometimes trained on how to use a tool. Otherwise he may defeat the very purpose of the tool he’s using. Worse yet, he may hurt himself in the process. And even worse is if the consequence is delayed for years before he realizes that the way he’s been using the tool that he’s been using is all wrong . . . and then it’s too late to rectify.

What’s the point? The point is . . . technology is neither good nor bad. If it helps our physical life easier, that’s good. But if technology negatively affects the other dimensions—especially the emotional and spiritual dimensions—of our life, even though it tremendously helps our physical and mental life, then it’s counterproductive. It’s not just useless, it becomes destructive. No matter how much help technology offers us, if it pulls us away from being cooperative, ethical, conscientious, industrious, and GOD-fearing, no matter how much easier life may become, if it pulls us away from being integrated, from being whole, then it is not being helpful at all. We are being deceived by our own assumptions.

Look at what Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution did to the relationship between science and religion. How about Sigmund Freud’s theory about human psychology? What has science brought us in terms of peace, love, integrity, authenticity, respect, and ethics? Technology is okay—as long as it doesn’t destroy the other dimensions of our lives. World Wide Web is good as an information tool. But how does it affect the younger ones? How about other technologies like guns, nuclear weapons, nano technology? Technology is supposed to be neutral. But now many are not. They destroy our paradigms, alter our beliefs, refocus our values, and the saddest part, they paralyze our conscience. Do I still need to prove this claim?

How about in education? Many schools are excellent when it comes to academics but totally poor when it comes to humility and character. They are absolutely illiterate when it comes to bringing knowledge to their emotions. Remember, education is also a tool. If it helps us improve our mental dimension and yet destroy our emotional and spiritual side, what good does it do?

In Principle-Centered Leadership, Stephen Covey mentions Gandhi’s teaching about seven things that destroy us:

  • wealth without work
  • pleasure without conscience
  • knowledge without character
  • commerce without morality
  • science without humanity
  • worship without sacrifice
  • politics without principles

Howard Gardner, in his year 2008 book The 5 Minds for the Future, discusses the limits of science and technology. He says that,

“ … science can never constitute a sufficient education. Science can never tell you what to do in class or at work. Why? What you do as a teacher or manager has to be determined by your value system—and neither science nor technology has a built-in value system.”

Although he advocates about the importance of having a disciplined mind, synthesizing and creating minds, he did not undermine other parts. In fact he includes respectful mind and the ethical mind. Doctor Gardner strikes balance.

Response

A silent revolution is needed. A subtle but intense campaign is necessary. Leadership reproduction is a must. Why leadership? Because our societies have already been overmanaged. People have already conquered science. We are now full of knowledge and are continuously acquiring more. We have plenty of pleasure. Commerce is in place, and many have wealth (although most are in poverty). In the list of seven dangerous things mentioned above, we already have pleasure, knowledge, commerce, science, and politics. What we lack however are conscience, character, morality, humanity, sacrifice, and principles—all of which are products of good leadership.

I think we should not take for granted that the technology we are about to bring to the society may destroy other areas of our life. In that case, no matter how much help technology provides to our physical tasks, if it destroys our inward self, our other dimensions, then it becomes ‘counterproductive,’ ‘counterefficient’, and ‘countereffective.’

The physical world that has already been mastered by people through science and technology is not all there is. There is more. Our society has heart, mind, and conscience as well. We can continue to make some research for more advanced technology, but we must do so without sacrificing our conscience, our character . . . without neglecting humanity, ethics, and principles. In other words, we need to strike balance. And I am convinced that leaders are the ones we can count on in providing that needed balance.