THE TAG LINE OF A LEADING INDIAN IT COMPANY – Wipro – has interested me always. It says: “Applying Thought“. It has also led me to ponder on the usefulness of knowledge. This has interesting dimensions particularly when viewed in the context of exactly when knowledge could be considered useful and whether knowing anything for its own sake is of any advantage. It was Peter Drucker who coined the term “knowledge worker” and the underlying assumption must have been that we apply knowledge that we have to the work that we do.
THERE IS ACTUALLY NO END TO WHAT CAN BE known but in terms of practicality we set limits for ourselves on what is essential for us to know. While this attitude has a lot of horse sense and may also help us in spending time productively, it unwittingly cultivates a certain degree of indifference if not contempt to any stream of knowledge that simply does not interest us resulting in an unintended devaluation of knowledge and its uses. To avoid this educationists all over the world spend a lot of time devising holistic curriculums so that we have a more rounded view of the world.
PART OF THE CONTEMPT WE HAVE FOR KNOWLEDGE that we have no use for personally has its origins in the way certain subjects are taught in school and the way our own knowledge of these subjects are assessed. This is the reason why a student may shy away from say, maths or history. One has to also encounter several “no tresspassing signs” on the way when we are still grappling with various branches of knowledge that we need to embrace as we transit from primary to professional education. For example, it is unthinkable for a commerce graduate to contemplate doing literature or a student of physics to think about a career in music as several questions would be asked to discourage his new found interest in the groves of the academy.
LEARNING HAS TO BE FUN AND IN AN AGE of increased distractions, the challenge of school teachers is to sustain interest in students for the subjects they teach. Equally, there has to be an early inculcation of an attitude that it is not a crime to know things that may not necessarily bring money. As the world shrinks in size on account of increased information access we come into much closer contact with various cultures and disciplines that may be totally alien to us. This provides a huge opportunity to have a peek into things that may not enhance our incomes but which can positively destroy the cultural barriers that surround us.
WE CANNOT REALLY AFFORD TO BE REARED IN our own little ghettos and miss the chance of knowing what the world offers to us. We may be slow converts to a lot of things, but we must at least try. Otherwise, we may end up smugly saying : WHAT I DO NOT KNOW IS NOT KNOWLEDGE. The converse is actually true and this is beautifully summed up in an age old Yiddish saying : THE LUCK OF AN IGNORAMUS IS THIS – HE DOESN’T KNOW THAT HE DOESN’T KNOW !