23 Mar

The More You Know

Knowledge and fear are intimately connected. Often, the less you know, the more you fear.

In the absence of knowledge, we tend to ask a lot of questions, we create a lot of noise in our heads. Questions in and of themselves aren’t bad — in fact they’re actually some of my favorite things — but when we don’t answer them, we get thrust into a swirl of what ifs, maybes, and long-term scenarios (none of which, of course, may turn out out to be true).

All that doubt leads to fear — and fear leads to inaction.

My relationship with fear is a long-standing one (more on that some other time), but it’s taught me something critically important: The antidote to fear is knowledge.

So yes, I ask a lot of questions (which is no doubt exhausting to those I ask them of…), but they’re questions meant to eliminate my own fear, or doubt, or wonder, at what’s in front of me.

Just as often, I’m asking questions to reduce the fear in someone else. To reduce the noise in their heads.

Ultimately, my curiosity is a pursuit of quiet. Of a mental state that’s free of worry, of fear, of doubt, and all the noise they create. A state where questions become answers, ideas become action, where wonder becomes reality.

Sometimes we fear knowledge itself. We fear a reaction. Or reality. We fear that what is will eliminate what might be.

But I’ve learned not to see it that way.

Knowledge doesn’t remove possibility, it cements it. It lets us focus our attention on what actually can be – and that lets us act (or in some cases, choose to not act — which is itself an action). It lets us do, move, move on.

The more you know, the less you fear.
The less you fear, the more you’ll do.

Any questions?


  • http://www.ChristopherSPenn.com Christopher S. Penn

    What you’ve got there isn’t fear per se as much as it is anxiety. Fear doesn’t cause inaction – quite the opposite. Fear causes immediate action, even if the action is foolish.

    Anxiety: there might be alligators in that pool. I don’t want to swim in it.


    You never have to think about fear. It does the thinking for you. You need only channel it into a useful response. Anxiety, on the other hand, locks you into paralysis because it triggers emotion but doesn’t provide a clue about what you’re supposed to do because there’s no external stimulus.

    • Tamsen

      An important — and accurate — distinction, Chris, thank you. While most folks conflate the two unthinkingly, I do not: my past history with anxiety means that I treat it like I do fear. For me, anxiety requires action.

  • http://www.ChristopherSPenn.com Christopher S. Penn

    I had to go home and look up the sources before I added to the above to make sure I got the lore correct. The trouble with treating fear and anxiety as the same is that, from a lore perspective, they come from very different places. In Japanese lore, fear comes from the “water” elemental, the idea of putting as much space and time between you and a problem as possible. Channeled well, it gives you distance to assess the threat. Channeled poorly, you panic and blindly run away, possibly into something worse.

    Anxiety as we’re talking about it here is more closely aligned with a “fire” elemental. Normally, fire energy is about connection. Too much and you get anger, where you are blinded and grasping onto something. Enough and you get personal, passionate connection. Insufficient, and you get disconnection, floating adrift, unable to make any choices, desperate for answers but finding nothing to attach to.

    Why this is important is that it may cause you to choose the wrong antidote! Weak fire energy in this metaphor is better balanced by connection (more fire energy), not by the cooling water of knowledge, which could actually make things worse. Very often, because we can’t see the bigger picture, we often choose more of what harms us rather than doing what will ultimately help us. Likewise, frigid coldness of a brittle intellect isn’t solved by rigorous, dispassionate analysis, which is why in some cases therapy can fail miserably and make things worse.

    • Tamsen

      This is unbelievably helpful insight — and it gives me much to think about. It’s always good to realize you haven’t figured something totally out yet….

  • http://www.ChristopherSPenn.com Christopher S. Penn

    This comes from the works of Stephen K. Hayes. He’s got a lot to offer :)

    • Tamsen

      Is he the one that runs the retreats you’ve attended? I’ll admit to having been intrigued before. Certainly am more so, now.

  • http://jenmontfort.com Jen Montfort

    I’m like you, anxiety = fear to me and it’s always a signal that I need to think things out, and form a plan to keep that feeling of panic (fear) away.

    But I agree that knowledge can make it worse. I have seen cases where people try to address their anxiety/fear by searching out more knowledge and as a result they get even further in their heads. It’s too easy to take that knowledge and turn it into an excuse to not move forward, to justify the anxiety, instead of using that knowledge to resolve it. It’s a fine balance.