Plato used a string-instrument to explain his view of how we know. He said: sometimes you hear a word, a name, or just a sound; you see a color, or a fragrance passes, and it's like plucking a string. There is a person you know or used to know. A conversation you were involved in, a statement you held to be true. These are the resonating strings. And with them are overtones. They surface and you know. Plato called this "anamnesis," knowledge as remembrance.
Yesterday, I heard someone say: "It's a long way from knowledge to kindness."
I wouldn't be able to prove that this is true, but I can't deny that it struck a chord. It "reverberated," as poets might say, and I can't find a reason why that shouldn't be a trustworthy sign pointing towards something we can call, with some trembling and some courage, "truth." It reminded me.
In other words, it made me think: Why is kindness so far away from knowledge? Why should kindness be something one would want to reach, and why is it to be reached from knowledge?
Doesn't it mean that knowledge, or a place very close to knowledge, is not necessarily a pleasant, pleasantly exciting place to be in? That knowledge as well as knowledgeable people can be quite "brilliant," as we often say, while being most unkind. Then, it wouldn't be so much ignorance one should fear but rather the brilliant ruthless knowers without mercy.
And where are these? Far away? No, far away is kindness. They are close by, close to knowledgeable people, closer even. But we like to remove them, if possible, as often as possible.
You know that Cairo Taxi-drivers are masters and lovers of conversation. During one of my rides through downtown Cairo, one of these gourmets of a good word poured his heart out to me over all the enemies he had in his life: from the closest, the guy next door to the farthest, the enemy of the whole nation. He didn't go further, to the enemy of mankind, nor closer, inside his own household, out of adab I presume, but most of all, he didn't go closest. I told him that I heard of a saying that says "Your worst enemy" is "between your two sides," bayna gambayn. He heard (interesting reverberation) and replied: "Ah, gambak" (next to you). Sitting there next to him in the front-seat of his car, I couldn't avoid noticing "a faint cold fear thrilling through my veins" at this minute, but ingenious gesture of displacement.
You see, the ruthless knower is too close. And kindness all the way down the road. Why? Let me remind you of an ancient saying written over the stage of an ancient hall called Ewart Hall in an ancient campus called Tahrir Campus. I liked to ask my students when we were still there, in Tahrir Campus, if they remembered what was written up there over the stage and all-too often they didn't remember. I like to remind you who might have never been there of it. Maybe, it will cause a string in you to resound. It says. "Let knowledge grow from more to more, but more of reverence in us dwell." Do you remember?