Knowledge without Zeal
“It isn’t good to have zeal without knowledge; nor being hasty with one’s feet and missing the way.” – Proverbs 19:2
Zeal without knowledge. This phrase is used quite frequently in church world. It’s incredibly accurate and very relevant to society today. It’s easy for us to get overwhelmed with passion and excitement and forge ahead, failing to think about the big picture of what we are trying to accomplish. I find this especially true amongst my generation. We have so much passion, but not a lot of experience. We’re pretty notorious for thinking we know the ‘best’ way to do something even though we haven’t obtained any knowledge or expertise in the area. I can be pretty bad at this. I have so much passion for my causes, and zeal for my faith that I have been known to dismiss others in favor for what I think is the ‘best’ way. I’ve been really trying to step back this year and seek council and advise from others, but it’s still very easy to slip into that “I’ve got this, I know what I’m doing” mode.
It’s incredibly important to think through your actions. It’s important to pray over decisions. It’s important to seek wise council and to listen to elders. In order for our lives to really reflect Jesus, we need to think about the big picture. We must be wise and prudent. Quick, emotional, hasty decisions are usually not the best option in a scenario. They can cause more harm than good. I know in my life, I regret hasty, zeal driven decisions far more than I regret the decisions I thought through and prayed over. If we are hasty, we can miss the way, we can lose our direction. We can go off course and find ourselves in a place we didn’t want to be. Passion must be balanced with knowledge.
However, recently I’ve noticed the opposite end of this spectrum. I do believe it’s possible to have knowledge without zeal. I was in a meeting the other day with a bunch of younger, passionate world changers, eager to make an impact in their activism. In this meeting, there was one older, very experienced person in this field. This person was a complete ‘Debbie Downer’ throughout our entire meeting. It seemed that this person set out to rain on the passion of the others in the meeting. I unfortunately see this more in my world than I’d like. I see incredibly smart, experienced people who likely set out to make an impact in the world at one point in their lives. But along the way they lost their zeal, their passion. I don’t know if it’s burnout, fatigue, or if they’re just jaded, but it can be very discouraging. I believe it’s possible to fill yourself with so much knowledge that you are unable to move with passion.
In the helping professions and the activism field, we can be faced with experiences that increase our cautious nature to stagnation. Perhaps a person had zeal without knowledge and the situation wasn’t perfect. So, instead of balance, many of us will just go to the opposite end of the spectrum and will lose our passion in the process. Humans are creatures of extremes, so many times we go in the opposite direction instead of finding a balance. “Knowledge without zeal” is, in my opinion, just as dangerous as “zeal without knowledge.” It causes us to stay in place, to be frozen. I’m framing this in the perspective of activism, but it can be applied to other areas of life as well. Ultimately, our hearts need to be stirred with passion, but we need to fill our minds with knowledge to create a balance. But, we can’t lose the passion that fuels us forward.
I’m not sure if I can pinpoint which of the two extremes is worse. One can result in unintended consequences that come from hasty actions, while the other results in no action at all. Balance is key, of course. This narrative may have been difficult to follow, it’s just something I’ve been reflecting on this year in my own life. I want to use my passion and drive in the most effective, helpful way, but I don’t want to get so much education and experience that I lose that passion.
What do you think? Have you seen examples of these two extremes? Which one was worse?