Knowledge Puffs Up, But Love Builds Up

Last night, as I was getting ready for bed, I saw that one of my friends had posted a meme about the confluence of Taco Tuesday and Cinco de Mayo on social media. Immediately, his post was filled with comments from people reminding him that the 5th of May fell on Thursday this year, rather than Tuesday, and he apologized for having spoken in error. I saw this and decided to give what assistance I could, reminding him (and those reading the post and its comments) that last year Cinco de Mayo occurred on a Tuesday [1]. The main reason I was aware of that is because I happened to regularly go to a particular Mexican restaurant every Tuesday to enjoy half a dozen or so beef hard tacos, and last year when I went to this restaurant I was told that because of Cinco de Mayo I would not be able to get my regular inexpensive tacos, so I bought some chicken fajitas and enjoyed a dinner in the crowded restaurant. Far be it from me to change my own habits simply because it was a special day for others, after all. I thought little of this mistake at first, but when I arrived at work, this morning one of the people in a neighboring part of the cube farm had seen the same meme that had tripped up my friend and reported on it, only to face the same sort of reply—that Cinco de Mayo did not fall on Taco Tuesday this year. I helpfully informed the person that it had happened last year, and we talked about why I would have remembered such a thing.

This sort of situation, where people believe a meme and pass it off to others without investigating themselves, is all too common. Even though the 5th of May is only about three weeks away and a calendar is not hard to check, it is easier for many to simply pass off what others have said without checking out the facts for oneself. Most of us are fairly efficient about our labor and energy, and even the minimal effort that is required to check such claims is more than people wish to undertake before passing along a piece of outdated information to others. On the one hand, those who pass along such outdated information without checking it out or verifying it first are simply looking to pass along a joke or provoke some thoughts in the mind of an audience, but those who debunk or find fault with the information are likewise seldom interested in pointing out when that information was actually accurate, which would account for how it could be so easily found and passed on. Photos and memes, like that of the collision of Taco Tuesday and Cinco de Mayo, seldom come with a date stamp that points out when these occasions will occur, and the lack of familiarity that people have with calendars on a basic level is somewhat upsetting, given that it is a task that takes seconds on a computer with a paper calendar, simply to flip a page to next month and see when the 5th falls. Yet such basic work either to test a claim before posting it publicly, or the work of figuring out when a given claim would have been true as a way of being charitable to others is done too infrequently.

Why is this the case? One of the most relevant scriptures of this phenomenon is 1 Corinthians 8:1, which states: “Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.” The NIV, a translation I do not normally use, phrases it well, stating: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” When we see a mistaken claim, particularly a mistaken claim that it only takes a brief amount of time to debunk, it is a straightforward task to simply debunk the claim and point out that the claim is mistaken. This allows us to feel smarter and less guillible than the people who passed on such a claim. Yet this sort of feeling is precisely what puffs us up, because we feel proud of our knowledge, even over so slight a matter as days on a calendar, and all it does is tear someone down who was not trying to engage in self-promotion, but merely pass along a thought-provoking tidbit of information that is amusing and clever. The point of any kind of debunking a claim ought not to be our own self-gratification, our flattery that we are people of particular intellect and reason, who are savvy enough investigators not to fall for any foolish and mistaken claims, but rather is to build up and encourage others into checking matters before passing them on. This kind of encouragement happens best when we allow others to save some face, pointing out when such claims are or were true, but also pointing out the truth. In so doing we do not embarrass or humiliate someone, and we take enough investigation to give the most charitable interpretation possible of what others are saying, adding honey to the vinegar of correcting someone of a misstatement. It is a wonder that saving the face of others is not more of a priority for us, given how most of us are particularly sensitive to losing face [2].

What is it that spurs us on to take the extra effort to not only debunk a false claim but to provide its most charitable interpretation? What allows us and encourages us to take such investigations is love. Specifically, it is the confluence of two types of love. The first sort of love is a love of truth, one that encourages us to investigate matters that others may find to be obscure or arcane. A love of uncovering knowledge and passing it to others encourages people to become writers and teachers and public speakers, because while many people enjoy the possession of knowledge, some people have such a passion for truth that they are motivated to great works of difficult investigation and study, all because they come across questions that must be answered, no matter the effort, thus helping others who might be willing to read a blog or even a book, but are not willing to answer that particular question with weeks or months or years of study. The second sort of love is a love of other people, and a concern for their well-being and reputation. A love for truth encourages us to investigate where others simply pass along information from others without fact checking [3], but it is a love for other people that encourages us to take the effort to phrase that truth in the most charitable way possible. Both sorts of effort are motivated by love.

Why is it that we see so little effort spent in contemporary society to build up [4]? Quite possibly, this could be a manifestation of our lack of love. If we genuinely love others and care about their well-being, we will take the effort necessary to build them up. This may include gentle instruction and correction where we see them going wrong. It will be quiet acts of kindness and generosity that do not shame the recipient of the gift, but that help people deal with the problems and difficulties of their lives. It will mean that we refrain from actions which hurt others, which humiliate them, which embarrass them, and which cause them suffering and anguish. It will mean that we will act in ways that build up not only ourselves and our immediate circle of friends and family, but we will act in ways that build up our institutions and communities as well. It is impossible for us to see into the hearts of others, just as it is impossible for others to see into our own hearts and minds. Nevertheless, we may infer an absence of love from an absence of deeds that demonstrate outgoing love and concern and from the presence of deeds that demonstrate a lack of love and concern, even if the presence of such deeds may demonstrate merely a desire to put on appearances. Where even the effort of putting up a good front is not undertaken, though, we can reliably infer a lack of love, because love is more than a mere declaration or more than an internal feeling, but rather is demonstrated through effort. If we do not take the effort to act with the well-being and dignity of others in mind, we do not love them, no matter what we may think about the state of our own hearts and minds.

What are we to do about this? We may very well feel like hypocrites if all we do is change our actions, to act according to what others view as love even contrary to our own feelings or our own laziness. We may find it difficult to be motivated to great and heroic deeds, or even deeds as modest as looking at calendars of previous years to see when May 5th fell on Taco Tuesday, just as we may not be motivated to look at this year’s calendar to make sure that those two phenomena happened to coincide. The same exact sort of laziness, for example, might lead us to believe that a confluence of blood moons is a rare thing when somewhat trivial investigation of calendars would convince us otherwise. Yet just as our desire for self-preservation, especially the desire to avoid appearing foolish and ignorant in front of others, can be a great encouragement to our own efforts at looking up and investigating matters, so too our self-knowledge of the importance of our own dignity and reputation can also encourage us to treat others better. The development of self-knowledge and empathy, in other words, can greatly aid our efforts at showing love for others because such empathy allows us to easily feel love for others, even if we do not know them well or necessarily like them. Through the development of these qualities, we also act in such a way as to avoid behaving in ways that embarrass or humiliate ourselves and others, and so they can help make our lives less awkward than they would otherwise be, and give us encouragement to overcome the awkwardness that we do face when other people lack either knowledge or compassion, by treating them as we would like to be treated rather than the way that they deserve. And so doing, we build others up in the process of the refining and testing of our own character, and gain honor as people willing to teach rather than as people who are simply proud in being knowledgeable about petty things. Let us therefore build up, so that we are not puffed up.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

[3] At times, this can be an immensely tragic matter, leading to the dishonorable slander and libel of decent people, as was the case with Ty Cobb:

[4] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christianity, History, Love & Marriage, Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Knowledge Puffs Up, But Love Builds Up

  1. Pingback: Can We Taco ‘Bout It? | Edge Induced Cohesion

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  4. Pingback: In Search Of…A New Home For Taco Tuesday | Edge Induced Cohesion

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