Threshold of Knowledge


Self-Betterment Made Difficult

Step One: Know Things

I’ve decided to absorb the sum of relevant human knowledge.

I do this, of course, for a purely human reason, and this particular reason is particularly human: I hate not knowing. I could put up with having forgotten the number of bananas to a free life in Donkey Kong Country, or what I ate for lunch the day my mom in a manic mood took just me on a trip across the Bay Area, though I haven’t. Not knowing the practical applications of Keynesian economics or the details in how it fails, however, bothers my to no end. It’s good that I have a generally reliable place to store knowledge, and an insatiable appetite. 

When I first moved to The House, you’d never have guessed it. Only a few months ago, the three free bookshelves in my room had but a meager collection of childhood favorites and the few mass market paperbacks I managed to pick up since the days of Hardy Boys and Oz. Now, they bustle whichever English-language classics appealed at the library’s book sale, from Margaret Atwood and Issac Asimov to Laurence Sterne and Ambrose Bierce. All I have left is to read them.

Mindful of the classical importance of a classical education, I snagged a paperback omnibus of Plato dialogues along the way. Thanks to the intellectual rigors from a lifetime of public education, my first classroom exposure to The Republic came as an aside in a post-baccalaureate lecture. For extra credit, we could read from the analogy of the cave, annotated.

It won’t be that bad, I tell myself. Plato had the courtesy to write my copy in English.


Filed under: Tempering Myself

Passing the Threshold

I’ve been Salmon P. Chase ever since I graduated.

I feel humbled and mortified by the conviction that the Creator has gifted me with intelligence almost in vain. I am almost twenty two and have as yet attained but the threshold of knowledge. …

The night has seldom found me much advanced beyond the station I occupied in the morning … I almost despair of ever making any figure in the world.

Salmon P. Chase, as quoted in Team of Rivals

I feel this incredible compulsion to do something significant with my life, and fear my growing realization that if I don’t get started on greatness soon, I won’t ever. An infinite field of possibilities surrounds me, and I am overwhelmed with the scope of it all, almost paralyzed with fear, because I have one chance to get it right. I daren’t be frozen to my spot, because I know that even doing nothing is tantamount to choosing an irrevocable path.

I don’t have much time. Within a short five years, the possiblities before me will be halved. I must cut out the least desirable, the least significant, the least meaningful futures by careful training. I must train my mind to absorb all knowledge I find, my heart to include empathy for all living persons, my ambition with focus that I might never fear whole fields of possibilities.

I refuse to relent. I refuse to coast. I will do something worthwhile with my life, and I will do it on a grand scale. I am no longer content to be a big fish in a small pond — nor will I be content with lakes, streams or rivers.

Here comes the ocean; I must ready myself.

Filed under: Motivation