Knowledge versus Wisdom:
Story of the Shoe-Tying Man


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Knowledge vs. Wisdom

Once upon a time there was a young man who was expert at tying his shoe strings. All the day long we would tie and untie his shoes, practicing a wide range of knots and creating new designs that were at once beautiful and highly functional. He had a knot for every situation and season. He had a knot for strolling, a knot for running, a knot for kicking. He had a knot for attaching tools to his shoe. He had a knot for attaching a milk bottle so that one might shake milk that had settled. He had a knot for attaching a weight so as to improve leg muscle tone. This young man had a great deal of knot-making knowhow.

It came to pass that local artists and architects found his shoe tying ability so impressive that they voted him a master shoe tyer, and gave him awards in each of their respective professions. The sculptors gave him an award for his knot shaped like a beaver. The architects gave him an award for his knot that resembled the Tower Bridge of London. The local Naval Academy was so impressed by his knots that they awarded him an honorary degree, since knot-making is a key naval art and area of research.

But the local folk noticed a change in him. He began to scoff at other forms of art. He expressed disdain for architects and painters, whose arts he said were girlish and meek. He was especially hateful of local masters of the arts, whom he reviled as "old people", and referred to as "worn-outs" and "know-nothings". He said his shoe tying was manly whereas the Navy was a club for homosexuals. He proclaimed an arbitrary dislike for psychologists. He then re-offended the Naval Academy folk when he said that most boats stunk like old shoes. And he should know, he was the master of shoe laces after all. And the common folk? He considered them a form of foot fungus.

He was deemed an eccentric by some. After all, they argued, great masters always seem to be egotists. He was flatly condemned by others. The chief officer of the Naval Academy called him "a fat head". The elder architects called him a prima donna. Yet our shoe-tying wonder kept up his intense training in the shoe-tying art.

He devised breathtaking new designs. He broke all records. He even constructed an entire boat out of recycled shoe material and shoe laces, which won him a small following at the Academy. He then built a home out of sticks, shoe laces and shoe rubber, which he donated to a poor family. Young architects, jealous of the elder designers, expressed special interest in him and took pleasure in their elders' disapproval of their interest.

This young shoe-tyer man was on a roll and proving his worth. And of course, he kept up the practice of constantly tying and untying his shoes in his search for attaining perfection in his narrow specialty, even as he expanded his art seemingly to encompass other specializations and professions.

One day, while crossing a busy road, he stopped to untie his shoes, so that he might recreate a butterfly he had spotted a moment before, and suddenly a huge truck struck him and squashed him like a bug.

Little was left of him. The driver had just moments before been contemplating a tricky lane-change maneuver, and turned his head right to check the adjacent lane, when nine of his eighteen wheels in succession went over the young master of shoe-tying, the shoe-lace wonder, flattening every bit of him like a pancake. Little pieces of brain and skull coated the asphalt, in addition to teeth and every other bit, all of him reduces to food for vultures and squirrels.

Successive automobiles squashed and mashed his many pieces, and our hero's bodily fluids and brains slathered coated on their tires like new, sticky red paint.

It was joked in the days after that although the shoe-tying man was good at tying shoes, he was not so good at crossing roads. This was not really true. He normally looked both ways.

But on this day, like every other day, his highest priority was attaining excellence in the shoe-tying and knot-tying arts. He was intensely focused on his narrow specialization to the exclusion of everything else.

Moreover, he had recently broken new ground, or so he thought. He had come to believe he could create new forms of life using shoe laces alone. He was convinced that he merely had to make knots in the forms of a beating heart, a pair of eyes, wings, and his all-powerful mind would then will them into a lively existence.

This was the moment he had been waiting for. He saw the butterfly and believed that he must birth a replica of it from his brain on the spot. He was going to prove himself a god. His disdain for everyone else would be proven just and appropriate. He would walk among the others like a shining beam of living light emanting from his shockingly powerful brain.

Ironically, at that moment his brain was forcibly removed from his skull and splattered all over the highway, thereby ending his life. No new butterfly was birthed, living or otherwise.

Perhaps something is to be learned from our hero's arbitrary mocking of psychologists. He was a person who was intensly fearful of introspection. Nay, he was militantly against it. He had a picture of Sigmund Freud on his dart-board. Those whose job it was to look within the mind for answers frightened him, and he mocked them, said "how dare they" and called them "loonies".

To be sure, he was a headstrong young man and he was a brash egotist and a Wunderkind. He believed that his special skill afforded him a super-high social status and that all others were "the dummies", meaning either pathetically unintelligent or bumbling fools. Hence his mockery of not only common folk but professionals as well. No one's learning or experience meant anything but his. He was superhuman.

But while he had refined his skill in his narrow specialization, in all other areas he was a novice. His was a fragile ego. A sole claim to fame -- shoe-tying -- that was useless for virtually every other area of human endeavor, had stimulated in him an inflated, over-confident sense of self, as one sees in fast-talking conmen. He knew a thing, he was proud, but he was not wise.

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