fear, knowledge, and judgment


“Is it not the instinct of fear which bids us to know?” -Nietzsche 

Nietzsche talks extensively about how even the most fearful think that the familiar is easier to know than the strange – a counterproductive idea. Knowledge, they think, is the familiar. But doesn’t this imply that knowledge in its truest form is a potential – that cannot be fully attained?

To illustrate this, my writing professor asked our class to think about one of the most important people in our lives. He asked, “Do you really know this person?”

I thought of my dad, and my instinct was to say yes. Yes. I’ve seen him in many situations. I know what he’s going to do, how he will act. But when I thought about it, I realized that I really only know my dad through his interactions with me. I never knew him as a child, as a son, as a brother, as an uncle. Do I really know him? Now, he said, apply this to a friend, or even a romantic interest. This person is a good, kind person, someone important to you. But really, you don’t know him or her. You can spend your whole life trying to know him, and you still will never fully understand.

I started thinking about all the times I’ve judged people because I thought I knew them. I judged them based on my knowledge – my expectations of and my interactions with them. But really, I did not know them – only God did. So how could I judge them?

“What are the reactions to the behaviour of someone in our presence?” Nietzsche asks. He answers: 1) we see what there is in it for us, 2) We take the effect of their actions as the intention behind the behavior, and 3) We ascribe the harbouring of these intentions as a permanent quality of the person whose behavior we’re observing it.

I need to take a step back and look at people, places, and ideas outside of myself. I need to ask myself the following question: How much is the way I look at people determined by the way they treat me, instead of by their intrinsic, God-given value?


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