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On Choosing Knowledge Over Happiness

“If you’re asked to choose between knowledge and happiness, what would you choose?”

My brother let out a short, convulsive laugh when I asked him this question, then said, “Happiness.” He did not contemplate it, and perhaps, was even laughing at the absurdity.

My father was even more convinced. “Happiness,” he said. Then with a snigger, “Why would I ever choose knowledge over happiness?”

A movie I saw today prompted me to write this article. As you might know, I find the inspiration for my writing from other forms of art. The Voyeurs – that’s the title. It’s a great movie for the interesting plot twist towards the end, and so gets a solid 7/10 rating from me for the genre. In the movie, an Ophthalmologist and her boyfriend spied on their neighbours – a married couple – whose relationship they discovered was tumultuous because the man continued to cheat on his wife, and denied it whenever she confronted him. He even seemed a tad abusive towards his wife from what their neighbours could see and hear spying on them. When the married woman visited the eye clinic where her (unknown-to-her) neighbour worked, to replace her old glasses that’d broken during an altercation with her husband that the Ophthalmologist and her boyfriend witnessed, she acquiesced with the (unknown-to-her) neighbour who now began to feel a sense of responsibility towards her.

The Ophthalmologist would anonymously reveal to her neighbour that her husband was indeed cheating on her, and even provided her with a strong proof of his infidelity. The married woman would react to this knowledge by taking her life – or so it seemed – and the Ophthalmologist’s boyfriend, who’d discouraged her from revealing to the woman her husband’s infidelities, would blame the woman’s death on his girlfriend (Sorry if this is a spoiler, but I’d think that it’s not). Apparently, the boyfriend held the Ophthalmologist responsible for the woman’s death because she refused to conceal information, to deny the woman that knowledge that drove her to suicide. Only if the Ophthalmologist could have known that would happen. And frankly, I find that suicide is an extreme reaction to news about what one’s partner has chosen to do with their bodies, but let’s save my unpopular opinions on sexual infidelities for another day.

I however acknowledge that sometimes, people are in a bad mental state, already courting death, and only seeking that trigger to tip them over the edge. I admit that only few people can accommodate truth every time.

Adaora

This movie refreshed a memory from back in the day when I dated a young man who was two-timing my friend and I. The news of his disloyalty – and his emotional infidelity I should say because we were supposed to be in an exclusive relationship – was spared me until I broke up with him. I remember being rather amused by the revelation because the circumstances of our breakup presented him as a wimp, and being told that this wimp was ballsy enough to call my friend by the same affectionate names he called me, and also invite her to visit only a week after I did was like … wow, surely it didn’t take balls to cheat. You know the balls I mean.

I also remember asking my friend why she didn’t tell me before then, and she gave a sincere excuse about not wishing to see my smile gone. She loved how my face lit up whenever I discussed the man she knew was a double-timer. Many years since then and I still can’t wrap my head around such thinking. So, it would have been more okay to let me date this guy for years than disrupt a lie? I don’t get it. She meant well; I know. She, like my father and brother and most others would choose happiness over knowledge and would project that choice on others.

And what’s this happiness that everyone keeps yapping about? What’s this happiness that everyone keeps chasing? I find that happiness is one concept that everyone should define for themselves, because it’s about feeling, and feelings are not objective. I may struggle to articulate what happiness means to me, but I know that happiness does not mean a lack of knowledge. Indeed, knowing can be a joyless burden and the brilliant philosopher who proposed that “ignorance is bliss” knew this all along. However, any feeling that’s based on ignorance is false. A smile on my face because of a double-timing man whom I think is loyal is false, and every day, I baffle at how much longer I would have gloried in foolishness because someone did not want to upset my feelings. Please upset my feelings.

If I were that married woman in the movie, I’d be happy to be sure that my husband is unfaithful, especially since he does a good job of denying it. I’d appreciate any efforts to validate my suspicions about his trysts, not so that I can commit suicide of course, but just to know, because knowledge is power. I like to say that books saved me, but what I actually mean is that knowledge saved me, and it continues to save me till this day. I cannot compromise on knowing for happiness – whatever happiness means. Knowledge may not bring me happiness – again, whatever happiness means, but I cannot survive the world without it. Being a knowledgeable person has made my life much more interesting, meaningful and resilient. Being a knowledgeable person has aided my self-preservation. I believe that the truth does set people free, even if only after it pisses them off. So upset my feelings, friends. My resilient mind is built to accommodate truth.

Two Christmases ago, I was taking a stroll with this man that I was liking at the time, and as we passed the engineering complex, I pointed towards Odim and told him my first-love tale of frequenting that area on foot from my hostel in my first year in the University. I was in love with an engineering boy who lived at Odim, and didn’t mind walking the torturous distance every time. I poked fun at the immaturity of my seeming doggedness in love while he grinned hard at my reminiscing.

Then he asked, “But were you happy?” I understood the implication of this question. He was assuming that I was happier with those eager, but painful efforts than I currently am with my knowledgeably disruptive approach to love. Then I was more innocent, unexposed to my discoveries about the world. Then I was more religious, more accommodating of patriarchal sentiments. He was asking to know how the knowledgeable shift in my approach to love has affected my happiness. A bizarre but inoffensive curiosity, so I indulged it.

I told him that I didn’t remember being happy or not. That was true. Often, I find that I don’t know how to respond to questions pertaining to my happiness because I don’t know what the asker expects happiness to mean to me. With his question and the few statements he made after, he was encouraging my ignorance about the things that I could no longer afford to not know, and my blindness to the things that I could no longer afford to not see, just so that I could be happy. A lack of knowledge he impliedly recommends as the antidote to my misery that he imagines must be because I let myself know too much and see too much.

I knew what responses my father and brother would give, before they actually did. That’s the response that the Ophthalmologist’s boyfriend would give. It’s the response my friend would give who hated to upset my feelings with the truth. It’s the response the man who preached happiness over principles and beliefs would give. It’s most people’s response, and it offers an explanation for why more people would gravitate towards faith than towards logic. Logic demands asking tough, disruptive questions that most people do not want answers to. Faith provides a security that knowing does not. Faith is comforting, same as not knowing. Why should one embrace the pain of knowledge, and of knowing, when they can cuddle the comfort of faith and be happy?

Tell me friends, which would you choose between happiness and knowledge?

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