I was meant to write this about a week ago, but I couldn’t bring myself to get over the shame and anger I felt at the realisation of how little I knew. I had always heard about the aphorism which asserts that what a man does not know is greater than him, even though I didn’t get the full import of that until recently. Needless to say, for some months now, I have made it a matter of exigency to read at least a book in a week. And when I say books, people who know me well understand that my definition of books is never restricted to those used in school or recommended for academic purposes only.
I believe a serious student has enough motivation to spur him to study whatever books that are relevant to his academic pursuit. This motivation often springs from a perception of the need to impress others, justify expenses incurred by parents, or suppress the usually less admitted fear of failure, lest one should become the undesirable object of effusive sympathy, exaggerated pity and not-so-kind mockery. Therefore, it is pardonable that most people find it okay to read just enough academic books to excel in school, while they neglect other books that are no less consequential to their success in life or otherwise. I extricated myself from that bandwagon of people who possess such a monophagous appetite for books a long time ago, and honestly, I only have my stars to thank. Life is too interesting to dwell on a facet and circumvent every other path. Haven’t you heard that variety is the spice of life?
Few days ago, having imposed on myself a 36-hour solitary confinement or thereabout, I concluded a collection of books whose themes run across arts, philosophy, science, religion and languages, well over 600 pages altogether. One should suppose that I would feel fulfilled, even elated, at the achievement of such a feat. Instead, I find it distastefully appalling to admit now that all I felt was shame: a sheer, nagging, humiliating shame. I was embarrassed at the height of my ignorance and the awareness of the exceedingly immeasurable minuteness of my knowledge. I became angry with myself, the kind of anger that compelled me to reflect and ruminate. Sadly, there was no one on whom I could vent my aggression, no one to bear the brunt of the biting pungency of my discovery other than myself. I was alone as the starkness of reality gawked at me, making me cringe.
Spontaneously, I brought to an abrupt halt all intellectual works I had embarked on. What use were they anyway? What relevance had they to humanity? What did I even have to say, to write, to invent, to clarify? Chief of all, what did I know?
Oh well, I knew the way forward. I also knew I would forever be ignorant: It is the curse of mankind, his ultimate and ineluctable bane. Ah, how crestfallen it made me feel, the seeming vanity of my quest for knowledge, the infinity of life’s general insatiety. Yet I forgive myself. I forgive myself for knowing so little. I forgive myself for even attempting to know all. I forgive myself for having the guts to forgive myself. What a man does not know will forever be greater than him, and I weep at the finality of this veracity. But woe betide me should I think this as an excuse to become complacent, for knowledge is yet the salvation of mankind. What a paradox! So, I read on.