Today I was gratified, and a little puzzled, at the fact that a two year old post about my favorite animal being the skunk  was particularly popular on Facebook. The way that I describe the skunk as a sensitive, nervous, and high strung animal with a reputation that inspires intense revulsion but a character that is loving and affectionate, one would almost think that I was talking about myself. And so I was. While I do not know if people were looking at that entry primarily looking for information about skunks, or looking primarily for information about me, whichever was the case, the effort hopefully paid off, assuming that people read what I write and take it seriously at face value. Being someone who tends to feel compelled to speak honestly and openly about my life, it is my hope that people will use that knowledge for good, namely to know what I am about and respond appropriately to that knowledge, rather than to feed their chimerical fears.
This afternoon at work, one of the executives explained why he didn’t like using the door behind me, and that was because he could recognize how unpleasant I find it for people to walk behind me, and how easily startled I am by the sound of the door buzzing right next to me. Now, this executive comes to my boss’ office fairly often, at least once every day or two, and it did not take him very long to figure out that I feel very uncomfortable sitting next to an exit, that I’m not fond of people walking behind me or being close to me and not interacting in a friendly way with me, and that I startle easily with loud noises and people close to me. Now, if someone who does not know me particularly well can see this so quickly, it stands to reason that it ought to be fairly obvious to anyone who notices me that I tend to be a fairly jittery person about others being close if they are not friendly, and one would think that possession of this knowledge would lead one to take the obvious conclusion that if one happened to like hovering close to me that it would be wise to be friendly enough to put me at ease. It’s not that difficult a concept to grasp. One would also wonder, for example, why it is that I am not moved to a desk where I would be less often startled, since I would think no one would like to watch me in my torment.
I am often intrigued when I see people seek knowledge about me without asking me directly, and I wonder what it is that people read. On the one hand, I feel genuinely pleased that people want to find out more about me even if they are unwilling to ask, and that they are willing to utilize the resources that I provide by posting such a great deal of information about my personality, life history, motivations, and musings for others to read. That said, sometimes I wonder if people often fail to make the best use of that information because they use it to feed their own hyperactive imaginations rather than to actually read what it is that I am saying. If we are to profitably gain from written information, where tone is often not present, we must start with what is written and deal primarily with what is on the table, and be careful about filling in the gaps with our own suppositions, especially if we do so from a point of view of skepticism or fear or mistrust of the author of the text in front of us. Given that it is clear how unwise this tendency can be in terms of biblical interpretation, we ought to be wary of reading into other texts that we come across in our day-to-day existence, but begin with a firm and respectful reading of the surface material, supplementing it with facts that can be gathered from other sources, and to make sure to differentiate clearly between what we know, what we are reading, and what we ourselves think.
The knowledge we possess is not merely for our having, but is for using in some productive fashion. Those who see, for example, that the reputation of the skunk and my own personal reputation are far different from the reality possess a burden with that knowledge to seek to reduce that gap through behaving in a more kind and generous-minded fashion so that this knowledge is reflected in action. Those who recognize that I startle easily and look visibly uncomfortable in certain circumstances, whether at work or any other place, have an obligation to use that knowledge to act in ways that make me more comfortable. Likewise, those who possess knowledge about someone from reading texts have a responsibility to draw the correct conclusions from the plain text, and not to use texts merely to feed feverish imaginations that suit one’s own fancies or fears and that do violence to the author of those texts. To know is to possess an obligation to act on that knowledge, and to act in kindness and in love. It is better not to know than to know and not to do, but once we know, we cannot return to ignorance again without doing disastrous harm to ourselves by closing off our heart and mind to our brethren.