7. Avoiding the Curse of Knowledge

During Corona period-1, I spent almost 5 months in deep contemplation, research, and study. I wanted to do my homework properly before visiting the village. Once it was over I decided to shift the focus. It was October 16, 2020, when I left for the village with my wife. Since the trains were not safe due to Corona, I was using my car for the journey. Kanpur was my first halt. There I stayed overnight with my friend Suresh Agnihotri Ji. The next day in the early morning I resumed my journey towards Tirhutipur.  

On the way to the village, I took a break for some time in Lucknow and Ayodhya to meet my friends, acquaintances, and Guruji. It was night when I reached the village.  Since it was too late, there was no scope for discussion in the night, but when I woke up in the morning I saw that everyone had plenty of questions to throw at me. I had answers for each question. But before I say anything, the agony of Ved Vyas Ji flashed in my mind.

The Editor of the four Vedas and the author of divine texts like Mahabharata and Bhagavata Purana, Ved Vyas Ji was a great scholar. He was the embodiment of all the knowledge which Indian civilization had to offer at that time. But it is ironic to note that he ended up as an upset man. At one point in his life, he said, “’I am raising my arms and explaining to the people that everything can be attained by the practice of Dharma. But no one listens to me.” This episode is explained in detail by Suryakant Bali Ji in his book- Bharat Gatha. The question arises that despite knowing everything, why was Ved Vyas Ji not able to explain his point to the people?

Princess Cassandra of Troy also had a problem of similar nature. Her story is mentioned in the Greek myths. She could see the future but the problem was that no one believed his words. When Greeks invaded Troy, she told her countrymen that Greek soldiers would come inside the city hiding in a wooden horse and destroy the city. But no one paid heed to her warning. She could not save her city from ruin and the Greeks reduced the whole city to ashes.

When you do a lot of study on a given subject and gather enough experience about it, you also develop the ability to see the future to some extent. You know what would be good and what would be bad. Till now everything is fine. The challenge arises when you start convincing those people to do or not to do something who have neither studied nor experienced something similar to you. This challenge becomes an acute problem when you forget the gap of knowledge and experience that you and your listener have. Whenever this happens, the communication comes to a dead-end and your point remains unheard.

All of us differ from each other in terms of knowledge and experience. In some cases we are experts and in most cases, we are ordinary. There is nothing wrong with it. The problem comes when we tend to share and impose our conclusions on others without properly assessing the gap between our knowledge and expertise. We communicate with the assumption that our beliefs and priorities are shared by the people who are listening to us. We feel that everyone around us knows, believes, and perceives almost in the same way as we know, believe, and perceive. In psychology, this tendency is called the ‘Curse of Knowledge.

How it affects you?

Psychologists study the Curse of Knowledge by placing it in the category of Cognitive Biases. This tendency is innate in every human being. We are separated only by the difference in degree by which we are inflicted by this curse. No one can escape from it. However, informed people can control it to some extent. How grave this has become in your behaviour, you can check it with the degree to which you suffer from the following symptoms. 

1. You will not be able to predict the behavior of others accurately. You will often ask that why he/she did it to me?

2. You will not be able to understand your past behaviour very well. You will ask yourself again and again, why did this happen to me?

3. You will often complain that people do not listen to you at all.

4. You will not be able to explain well to the novices (students) what you know very well and possess expertise over it.

5. You will give very little chance to the person in front of you to speak.

6. You may also get annoyed that people do not understand what you are saying. Along with this, if you are cursing people with different adjectives, then be careful, you are in the clutches of the Curse of Knowledge.

The best way to deal with the Curse of Knowledge is to put aside your prior information, assumptions, and expectations for a moment whenever you encounter a new person or a new situation. You have to learn to see things in their true form. Making assumptions without observation and investigation is very dangerous. Sherlock Holmes, the character of the famous detective novel, rebukes his assistant Dr. Watson in a case (The Scandal of Bohemia), saying, “You see, but you do not observe”. This scolding does not apply to Watson alone. Almost each of us needs it.

Nobody is indeed safe from the Curse of Knowledge, but its effect is more severe on those who are social activists and advocates of change. There are two categories of such people. The first are revolutionaries. They believe in quick change. The second category belongs to those who are in favor of the gradual change. The Curse of Knowledge becomes out of control among those who talk about revolution. However, it is under control in those who talk of gradual change.

Since I’m an advocate of gradual change, the Curse of Knowledge is probably not out of control in my case. To reduce it further, we have made a special provision of two years observation period (2020 to 2022) in our roadmap. I believe that the lower the Curse of Knowledge, the more effective the dialogue will be.

With this conclusion, I started a series of conversations with my family members and other people in the village. I was in no hurry to explain everything to everyone immediately. My talk mainly focused on the proposed visit of Govindji on the day of Dussehra 26 October 2020.

Vimal Kumar Singh

Convener, Mission Tirhutipur

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