Saturday, February 21, 2009

Knowing vs. Understanding

(Below is an excerpt from Galyn Wiemers' book Hope for America's Last Generation. Some minor portions and some references have been changed to make it appropriate for a wider audience:)

A Multiplication Analogy
THERE’S A COP out many people take that bothers me. Whenever someone poses a question about some issue, many people become uncomfortable and are quick to give the “right” answer.” But the difference between knowing the right answer and understanding why that answer is right is huge.

The answers to math problems can be easily memorized (e.g. 7 x 7 = 49). In elementary school, my teacher told me to memorize my “times tables” so I could regurgitate the right answers on speed drills and math tests. However, if I had simply memorized the answers without truly understanding the concept of multiplication, I would have failed. Why? Because if I memorize 7 x 7 = 49 but the teacher asks me for the answer to 7 x 8, I won’t be able to figure it out. I haven’t really learned multiplication; I just know how to spit out a few right answers here and there. Only someone who understands how he got the answer to 7 x 7 will be able to figure out 7 x 8 on his own.

So it is with life. We should never simply accept an answer we’re given without fully understanding it. Living life this way is not a skill for the faint of heart. In fact, many people don’t think it’s necessary at all. They ask, “Why can’t you be satisfied with 7 x 7 = 49? Why do you question it? Why can’t you just believe it? Can’t you just accept it?” Yet we must continue to question because, even though we may already know the right answer, we will never have a deep understanding if we stop questioning.

People who seek deeper understanding are often labeled “difficult” or "rebellious" by those who love to spout the “right” answers. Yet doubters and skeptics are usually the only people who have a true desire to achieve something most people never achieve—a real understanding of what it’s all about. It takes time and discipline to go from a basic knowledge to a deep comprehension of it. Growing into understanding is a much longer, more difficult, and often very frustrating process for those who take this longer route. But, in the end, it’s the only route that leads to freedom.

Saying, “I don’t understand” even in the midst of people who are perfectly content to “know the right answer” can be scary. You have to stop worrying about what others think of you. You have to remember that seeking understanding with humility is the only way to honor the truth.

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