True understanding requires true education and true knowledge. There are those who would assume their competence in the form of academia, with superficial knowledge of theories and concepts. Others attemptto command a higher status by demanding their credentials be observed and respected. These are the types who lack true knowledge and understanding.

Many people are impressed by those who can quote from books of poetry or chapters in a textbook. They view this as intelligence and extend this impression to assume that they are educated. A convenient example comes from a favorite film of mine, Good Will Hunting.

It is interesting that Will Hunting, anti-hero in said film, makes a point of having original thoughts in order to demolish and humiliate an intellectual opponent. He does so despite the fact that he himself shows no evidence of having any original thoughts of his own. To paraphrase his begrudged therapist, “If I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written…but I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel.” In other words, Mr. Hunting is lacking in authenticity and experience. His knowledge, while superficially intimidating, is nothing more than an exhibition of his remarkable memory and academic capabilities.This is a far cry from what I would consider to be true knowledge. Mr. Hunting lacks the emotional and spiritual aspects of life experience that completes ones education. He has book smarts, there is no doubt about that. But his knowledge is not grounded in the real world. Rather, it is a mere reflection of the books he has read. Perhaps he too does no more than the Michael Bolton clone in that he merely reads voluminously.But before I turn this into a character study of Will Hunting, this is an example of what I mean by having real knowledge. It is akin to the soldier who reads, theorizes, and conceptualizes about war but whom has never stepped foot onto a battlefield. He can preach the virtues of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, he can vouch for the effectiveness of von Clausewitz’s tactical genius, but without ever being in the line of fire himself, he will never gain that intangible quality of authenticity and authority.

Theories and concepts are the stuff of those who assume authority without having the experience to justify such a station. In my experience, this is largely manifest in those who use their diploma as a tool for intellectual bullying. Fancy rhetoric, the slick ability to recall large amounts of information from textbooks and case studies, and technical language serve to obscure the fact that they have nothing in the way of experience, where it really counts.

There is a certain sense of camaraderie amongst those who have shared a particular experience, whether it was together or not. Soldiers who have seen combat, women who have been victims of sexual assault, children who have been abused, people who have suffered addiction, people who have dealt with or are dealingwitha mental disorder; these people have seen the reality of such difficulties. These are the people who have seen the truth of such matters, first hand. Their experiences are invaluable, far more educational than any textbook or class. Those who are experienced see through those who can only lay claim to academic theorizing.

A deep understanding of something can be defined as having a grounded perspective gained through experience and exposure. A police cadet may learn the concept behind community policing, a salesman may learn the premises of gaining compliance, a therapist-in-training may learn the theories of depression; but none of them can claim to have a deep and true understanding of their respective fields without having first performed in their position’s capacity.

But experience is only part of the equation. To become well-versed in anything, one must have a comprehensive knowledge of the practical. One must be able to understand how theories and concepts actually apply to the real world.

Anybody who points to credentials as proof of authority cannot be trusted. If one were truly authoritative, then ranks, titles, diplomas, number of classes taken, lectures attended, and certificates earned would not be used as symbols of authority or competence. Authority and competence is self-evident and, when true and earned honestly, silently speaks volumes to the integrity of the speaker. A soldier who leads by title is one who will lose his men, either due to mistrust, incompetence, or lack of respect. Those who rely on credentials and the like in order establish superiority in fact have no substance. Credentials are but mere words where actions count.

Modern academic institutions do not educate. Rather, they inform its students. Knowledge can be attained easily. Encyclopedias contain massive amounts of knowledge. But they do not contain education. Education takes place in the minds of the students. There is a big difference between knowledge and education. Unfortunately, the general public seem to easily confuse the two, mistaking being knowledgeable with being competent or educated.

The truly educated are those who question and think. Critical thinking, something sorely missing from the majority of American society, is the mark of an educated man. Intelligence as well as verbal and written acuity are also further signs of a man who is in command of a mind that is fine and refined. Diplomas, degrees, and titles may serve to fool those who do not know any better, but the educated mind sees through such a ruse.

It is a sad day for American society when a mishmash of obscure (or even not so obscure) ideas that are barely profound passes for intelligence. It is disappointing to see that anybody would assume that an academic degree would be worth more than experience, that such things would confer any degree of authority so powerful that it would crush the ideas and consideration of those without such a convenient title.

This is a work in progress.