Last night I was talking with someone about self-improvement and the difficulties of choosing the right path. Somewhere in the conversation he used the quote “For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.” (Ecclesiastes 1:18). I got an instant negative feeling about that statement. Upon more thought I realize that it’s just another example of how there are no absolutes.
Reading deeper into the passage that line is from, to my understanding, implies that as we come to know more we become more miserable because we gain a greater understanding of people’s faults, failures and our utter inability to do anything about much of anything. It also offers that knowledge is vanity and therefore not good, unless it’s pursuing knowledge of God, which brings happiness. (But we’re not going to go into a religious debate here.)
To an extent this statement is true. I’ve spoken more than once of how I wish I could unlearn certain things, because they just create mental clutter and misery. Sometimes, knowing too much can be distracting, upsetting or even painful. And as implied, some people do seek knowledge for the sake of vanity, but I think that’s the minority. Wanting to learn is a wonderful thing, and it should absolutely be encouraged at all times.
To me, wisdom is the application of knowledge, and that’s what we’re after. Yes, the things we learn may make life harder for us for a while, they may be upsetting to us, but it’s how we use it that matters. I think there’s a point we can reach when we can balance the helplessness or confusion that information can cause with the benefits it can bring us.
It may be an oversimplification, but this quote seems to imply that giving up knowledge of non-spiritual things will make us happier and better. I can’t see that as true. If we don’t learn and grow and expand, we’re nothing. We’d fall into disarray, only to be let by others. We’re already doing enough of that. If we don’t think and learn and expand our knowledge and awareness, we’re nothing but automatons. Now, I do think the pursuit of spiritual understanding is very important, I’d never discount that, but to let go of other knowledge and embrace general ignorance would not be the bliss some think it would be.
Yes, there are plenty of things which enter our minds that we wish we could forget. Not knowing some things wouldn’t hurt us. Generally speaking though, I believe that we have to seek knowledge and understanding. We should try to be our best in every way and keep learning. A stagnant society where people don’t think, learn and develop new thoughts is sure to die. The pain that some knowledge can bring is surely balanced in the end by the good that we can gain from it.