Knowledge is Sorrow

Sorrow is knowledge: they who know the most
Must mourn the deepest o’er the fatal truth,
The Tree of Knowledge is not that of Life. – Lord Byron

For the last two years, I’ve been working in Human Resources at a plastics company in Elgin, Illinois. Although I have a degree in Business and a lot of experience in business through the travel agency, manufacturing was a new adventure for me. The culture is very different here in Chicagoland than what I grew up with in the South. Not only that, but working with such a wide range of people was also a challenging experience. In my interview, the hiring manager talked about hiring someone with character and the ability to learn a skill, rather than someone who had the skills, but also was set in his or her ways. So, he gave me a chance to prove myself.

Yesterday was my boss’ (Al) last day as he is moving his family to California for a new adventure of their own. In the weeks leading up to his departure, I’ve been reflecting on the things that he taught me. I’ve learned a great deal about manufacturing, plastics, Human Resources, Insurance and 401k Contracts and renewals, and even accounting. He’s been gracious enough to teach me anything I wanted to know. I’ve learned a lot of valuable skills that will continue to serve me in the future. I’m very grateful that he is a boss who believes in mentoring, teaching and raising up leaders from within an organization. Lesser people are often threatened by these things.

In my reflection, I keep coming back to one very important thing that he has taught me: “Knowledge is Sorrow”. I’ve often heard that “Ignorance is Bliss”, but had not heard the antitheses. In my job in Human Resources, I often have very personal knowledge of people’s lives. I’m the one who receives instructions to garnish someone’s paycheck when they can’t pay their bills. In my first few months on the job, we lost a long-term employee in a tragic car accident. I had to sit with his family and discuss end of life things that seemed far too intimate for my short interactions with him. I’m included in conversations about hiring decisions and know when we are going to offer someone a position. I also know when someone is about to lose their job, either for poor performance or job restructuring. People often sit in my office and discuss personal issues that may impact their performance at work and I am burdened with determining whether I can safely allow them to continue in their daily activities. And, as my current responsibilities include accounting functions, I also intimately know the financial status of the company whether good or bad.

Knowledge truly is sorrow. Knowledge is also power, but with it comes a great deal of responsibility. Al has always said, “I’ll tell you what I can tell you or I’ll tell you that I can’t tell you, but I’ll never lie to you.” And, I’ve been learning to do the same. It’s a burden to carry knowledge, so I’m learning to only seek out what I truly should know and nothing more.

Last night, we started a Bible Study by Beth Moore called “Sacred Secrets”. I think it’s a very timely study for me. The ideas of secrets and knowledge have been stirred up in me for some time. I’m hoping to write a series of short stories about it in the future. I’m coming to learn that when we are indiscreet with what we share, when we gossip, or when we speak before we think, we are burdening other people with something they didn’t ask to carry. I come from a family with a lot of secrets (and I’m pretty sure most families are this way). It’s so difficult for me to know things about people’s lives that I believe they should know, but no one will tell them. It’s a burden. It damages relationships. It’s painful to be told something about a loved one that wasn’t my business to know. My parents have done a great job of keeping us free from the burden of certain past family issues. But, because others in our family weren’t as discreet, I know things I wish I didn’t. They are past issues. There’s nothing that can be done to change them. But, my perspective on loved ones has been forever altered. It makes me sad. It fills me with sorrow.

So, I hope I remember, when I’m curious for a bit of gossip or when someone over-shares, that “Knowledge is sorrow” and I may not be prepared to carry that burden. I hope I’ll have the courage to stop them in their tracks and say it’s not appropriate for me to know these things. Gossip, secret sharing, and even lies have played a big role in the destruction of many a family. We pray that we are able to set a new course for our family, for our children, and not burden them with these things. We want to walk in wisdom and grace and make a better way.

Thank you, Al, for all you’ve taught me. I will forever carry these lessons in my heart. Good luck in California! (Maybe send some sunshine our way when you think of us!)

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