How many times have we heard the adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Some might call it conventional wisdom, but as far as I’m concerned it’s just conventional – at best. To place an emphasis on who you know rather than what you know sets up an unjustified false alternative, i.e., that you don’t have to choose between knowledge and people. However, intelligent, independent individuals can, and must, choose to interact with other intelligent individuals.
Even more fundamentally, the statement implies an anti-human, anti-life idea: That there is no such thing as knowledge, so you might as well just get through life by being popular. Imagine if Albert Einstein had thought this way. Or Galileo. Or Aristotle. Or Jonas Salk. Or Henry Ford. Or Thomas Jefferson. Imagine if any creative genius or innovator in human history had stopped his work and decided, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Forget about knowledge; it’s not possible anyway. Besides, being an innovator makes you unpopular. I’ll just check my opinion polls and see where I stand today. I cannot tolerate being disliked.” Sadly, that is the very sentiment echoed more and more in today’s political climate.
A healthy and rational person cannot experience genuine happiness or self-esteem if popularity and social status are his or her primary motivations. If you are unhappy or frustrated with the state of your life, then ask yourself these questions: 1. Do I try to be popular, or do I try to be excellent? 2. Do I set goals based upon what is socially appropriate, or on what I judge to be desirable and achievable for me personally? 3. Am I trying to please others, or am I trying to please myself? All three questions can be neatly summed up simply by asking yourself if you are operating on a philosophy of mediocrity or a philosophy of excellence.
More and more we are hearing, “I have a right to happiness — so where is it?” When happiness does not simply appear to them, these unhappy people direct their anger onto other sources. They may blame their God for not bestowing happiness. Or they may lash out at “society” (the great catch-all) or the government for not sufficiently legislating or mandating universal happiness into existence. Or they may displace their anger onto family members or children for allegedly getting in the way of their happiness or not sacrificing enough for them.
Whatever the source, my experience has shown that such displaced anger festers and can become psychological disorder. People with emotional problems often believe that they can go to a mental health professional for purely passive “treatment” the same way a medically ill person goes for treatment, gets some pills and gets cured. In reality, quite the opposite is true. In fact, psychotherapy can become part of the problem rather than part of the solution because many therapists simply tell their clients, over and over, “Yes, you do have a right to happiness, and you should be angry. Get in touch with your anger, and you’ll be better.” Nonsense.
Yes, you might “get in touch” with the anger, but it won’t necessarily make you better. The only real cure for such mental maladies is the one nobody ever wants to hear, but that everyone knows is true: Take responsibility for your life. Demand freedom, and then live up to that freedom. Set goals. Choose them for yourself, and only for yourself. Yes, this means being selfish, but in a healthy, self-affirming way. Selfishness in this sense means being totally responsible for yourself. Yes, it can be scary, and it certainly contradicts all the popular “victim-think” we hear nowadays, but it is the only sure way to achieve happiness and true peace of mind.
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