Jewish Journal


March 7, 2013

Why Knowledge Isn’t Power



Ever since I was young, I knew that I was an intellectual. I loved to read. It gave me an outlet. As I progressed through school, I came to believe that knowledge could arm me, enable me to deal with the world. Somewhere along the lines, however, knowledge transformed from a noble protector into a prohibitive mask. I didn’t need anyone or anything as long as I had my mind.  I was smarter than you— therefore, you had nothing to offer.

I landed on the doorstep of Beit T’Shuvah in January of 2011. I continued to labor under the delusion that I could use my knowledge to power me through rehab.  Several months into treatment, I remember cracking open the Twelve and Twelve, the Alcoholics Anonymous book that discusses the 12 steps and 12 traditions. I read a paragraph that changed everything:

"Now we come to another kind of problem: the intellectually self-sufficient man or woman. To these, many A.A.'s can say, "Yes, we were like you - far too smart for our own good…The god of intellect displaced the God of our fathers. But again John Barleycorn had other ideas. We who had won so handsomely in a walk turned into all-time losers. We saw that we had to reconsider or die. We found many in A.A. who once thought as we did. They helped us to get down to our right size. By their example they showed us that humility and intellect could be compatible, provided we placed humility first. When we began to do that, we received the gift of faith, a faith which works.”

I had a moment of clarity. I realized that my best and brightest ideas brought me into rehab and they could easily take me out. I needed to alter my beliefs. Knowledge isn’t power. Humility is power. Humility enables me to seek help, to stay teachable and to absorb the keys to my recovery.

In January 2012, I went back to school. I was instantly drawn to neuroscience. I became fascinated with the brain.  I initiated a quest to understand the inner workings of my mind. I studied how cocaine, alcohol, amphetamines, opiates, etc. altered my neurochemistry.   I came to understand the way that prolonged usage of drugs and alcohol shaped my neuroanatomy and as a result my cerebral cortex, my limbic system and my brainstem. Invigorated with this new influx of knowledge, I began to feel as if I could conquer the world.

Slowly but surely an insidious idea crept back into my thoughts. “Maybe if I understand exactly how drugs and alcohol affect my brain, I can control them.  I lacked understanding, not control.” Back again was this idea that knowledge was power, an idea that I thought had disintegrated.
Luckily with a year sober and the tools of my recovery, I was able to dismiss this dangerous idea. But the question still persisted, why did a part of me still believe that knowledge was power?

Knowledge has been my coping tool for as long as I can remember. It enabled me to excel in academia, which is a realm that I so highly prized. Perfectionism tied my self-worth to academic excellence. Knowledge was the end-all for me. Of course, it all made sense. Back in school again, perfectionism managed to seep into my thinking and humility managed to escape. But with the tools I have gained in sobriety, I have kept myself in check.

Today, I have the ability to dismiss such thinking, to understand that it does not serve in my best interest. Today, I try to stay in a place of humility. I try to remain teachable. I use knowledge as an asset, not as a weapon. Today, I realize that I am not smarter than everyone— that’s why I had a friend (Michael Soter) edit this blog.

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