knowing better does not always lead to doing better

“I’m not responsible for fixing all the world’s problems. I’m responsible for doing my part.”

Jess Morales Rocketto


“Life is like a library owned by the author.  In it are a few books which he wrote himself, but most of them were written for him.”

Harry Emerson Fosdick


Many people suggest “knowing yourself” is the key to, well, everything. It suggests that you kind of write your own book and live it, live by it, and add chapters as life goes on. The problem is people do not live their lives in silo-like ways. Our physical and mental self doesn’t exist in the absence of the interaction with other people and society. The brain and the body and the external world all shape one another in fluid dynamic ways. To truly understand ourselves, or people in general I imagine, we must not focus on what’s happening with one of part, but on the interactions between the parts. In fact, I would suggest there is a partnership between the brain and society and it is somewhere within this alliance (or battle) between the body (experience), the mind and society as a mutually informing and codependent entity that society changes as well as the individual. That said. Our brain has limits and existing thought systems can accommodate change up to a point. Of course, overstimulation (overload), causes us to ‘shut down’ if not retreat into our most comfortable beliefs. But more when enough new insights and changes in our thinking accumulate, the resulting strain almost demands our brain to consider a paradigm shift. It is conceptual thinking in action. New assumptions create new expectations and even some new choicemaking rules emerge like a phoenix from the fire. The reality is knowing yourself is kind of like the gradual twisting of a kaleidoscope wherein a large number of small modifications eventually yields a substantially different picture.

Which leads me to how to know better.

I am not sure ‘how to know better’ is really grammatically correct, but let’s get to constructs. We all have a construct for how we do and think about everything. The problem is that construct does not exist in isolation.

In fact, an isolated construct has little meaning on its own. It has meaning only through its conversations and interactions with other constructs. Every person changes in some way depending on an interaction the more people we interact with and the more diverse that they are the more complex our own behavior becomes. The same is true of constructs. A construct becomes more multifaceted the more it interacts with other constructs. Associations among constructs not constructs in isolation drive behavior. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out you can think of constructs as people.

Which leads me to say constructs only get you so far.

Many of our constructs reside in the subconscious. What this means is that the brain does a lot of talking amongst itself. In fact, most of the brain spends its time communicating with itself and only infrequently do we consciously get to take part in these conversations. What I mean by that is that the neurons, and groups of neurons, are having conversations among themselves with regard to what we are seeing, hearing, feeling in our interactions and creating ‘constructs’. Occasionally the results of their conversations bubble up into our consciousness and we become aware of them as ‘constructed thoughts’ which appear as a form of reasoning (making sense of the world). Here is an unfortunate truth. Much of the time what the neurons tell us are constructed stories. What I mean by that is some of those stories, just from a sanity standpoint because we just do not have time to know or experience everything, add things to create it and subtract other things to be able to create the story. What I mean by that is that oftentimes we get an incomplete data input and our brain completes the data and then gives us back the story; constructed.

Which leads me to say knowing yourself better does not always lead to doing better.

“Human nature and human life are wide subjects

John Stuart Mill

Yeah. Knowing better does not automatically lead to doing better. That’s a tough nut to swallow, isn’t it. By the way, this is true also of knowledge. Knowing more knowledge does not automatically lead us to being wiser in our decision making. The reality is knowledge can create what is called “accepted theory” (I believe this to be true), but the rubber hits the road on ‘applied theory’ (as in what is actually done). To be clear, I am not suggesting ‘applied theory’ is hypocritical because, as I noted in the opening, even accepted theories are contingent to interactions, i.e., reality. Excessively following accepted theory actually lacks rationality in that it ignores context. There is nothing we do that doesn’t exist in the absence of the interaction with other people and society. So you can know better but that knowledge is constantly placed at the intersection of a shitload of things and, yes, sometimes your ‘know better’ just gets run over by reality. But you know what? You get back up, dust yourself off, maybe know a bit better, and try to do better.

Written by Bruce