Knowledge Isn’t Power

Your body is your servant. Your mind is also your servant. Habits are how they serve you. Who’re they serving?

I had an unstable childhood. I was moved around a lot, my parents were busy trying to survive in a foreign world, my older brother lost in teenage angst. I didn’t know the customs or culture, barely knew the language, so I didn’t have any friends till I was older.

One thing that I’ve heard often back in the early 90’s was how “knowledge is power.” I believed it, and I wanted power. I wanted to help my parents, to help myself, to create stability and avoid those moments of dread, when you don’t know if you’ll have a home the next day.

I believed knowledge was power well into adulthood, and I’ve been gathering as much knowledge as I could since childhood. I gravitated towards the sciences. Or rather, people gravitated me towards it. I was asian, awkward, wore glasses, of course I must be good at math and science. I learned a lot and branched out to things no one else my age was learning. Reading physics books no one ever touched in the school libraries. Learning how to program clocks using Java on an old computer my brother and I stretched the limits of its small CPU and memory.

And now, I’m still learning, branching out ever farther. My friends find me to be a walking rolodex of esoteric information. I’m addicted to documentaries on Netflix. I can’t have a conversation without saying “I saw this documentary…” at least once. I still behave as if knowledge is power, but I don’t believe it anymore.

I believe that habits are power

Power, which is a quantitive measurement of work, is what is necessary to get things done. When I was a child, I adopted the idea that knowing something will result in getting things done. Life’s been one big hard lesson on how un-true that is. None of my vast knowledge has helped me succeed in the things that really matter. And the things I have succeeded in, It wasn’t a result of my knowledge in biology or mathematics, but rather a result of my irrational avoidance of getting things wrong, offending anyone, and kowtowing to authority figures.

That’s what I mean when I say that habit is power. It’s been my habits, the things I’ve picked up from an unstable childhood that has helped me land and retain jobs long enough to help bring my family away from the edges of poverty.

From the moment we landed on this country, I knew we were struggling with money. I don’t recollect how a 6 year old could know that, but it hung in the air constantly. I was very careful to never be of any extra financial burden on my already stressed out parents. Seeing them fight, verbally and physically, over money almost everyday, left me with a deep fear of money troubles. I never wasted a penny as a child. I didn’t have toys that didn’t bring anything but the maximum amount of enjoyment. So no action figures, baseball cards, pogs, or whatever stupid thing kids were into those days. Video games were alright though, only the ones that you can escape in for hours and hours in between school and sleep.

I didn’t know it at the time of course, but I was also creating habits around food that still have power over me to this day. I didn’t have friends, so books, tv, and video games were my buddies growing up. As a child, few things enticed me more than reading a book for hours while eating chips. Watching TV while eating dinner. Ice cream, slushies from the gas station my parents worked at, anything sweet or salty was my drug of choice as an adolescent. I was overweight from the age of 8 until now, to this day I still fight it.

At school I didn’t know how to use a knife and fork. It seems like a small thing, but to a 6 year old immigrant, something small like lunch time was a maze of cultural mishaps and ridicule. In fact, all of school was an exercise in avoiding being out of place. In my attempts at not being noticed by anyone, I was noticed by everyone as that shy awkward weirdo. I probably smelled like curry all the time too. I created habits to avoid confrontation. I apologized unnecessarily, never spoke up against any injustices or inequities, didn’t ask any questions I couldn’t figure out later by myself. I tried my best to never give anyone anything to complain about. I wasn’t a model A+ student, just the B+/A- necessary to avoid both my parent’s and my teacher’s attention.

Fiscal fascist-like-conservatism and a fear of offending or disappointing people results in an excellent employee. Silent yet effective, I didn’t negotiate my first career wage, didn’t ask for any raises or advancements. I took my paycheck and paid off all my loans and helped my family get out of debt, and eventually have economic stability at the home. Kudos to me.

But that’s as far as I’ve been able to accomplish in my life. That’s why I don’t believe that knowledge is power anymore. I can now see that it has been my habits that have resulted in any success I’ve had. And everything beyond that has been failures.

I lost all my 401K savings on a juice bar venture inside a fitness gym. I spent the rest of my retirement from my first job, on an attempt at being an independent mobile app business. I’m still 15–30 pounds overweight. I can’t talk normally to my parents, from somewhere unknown comes seething anger and frustration. Listening to my mom’s loving concerns about my well being instantly annoys the crap out of me. I don’t interact with more than one person on a regular day by choice. I don’t think I make eye contact much.

The little success I’ve had in my life deludes me into thinking I know what I’m doing. But all my failures bring me back to reality. I know a lot of things, and most of them don’t really matter in the way I want it to matter. Knowledge hasn’t been the power which brought results in my life. Habits have both brought me results AND have held me back.

Everyday now is a struggle against these habits.


Originally published at koanspot.blogspot.com on August 31, 2016.