The Authority of Experience

There are a lot of blogs, articles, and even books written by folks who don’t know what they’re talking about.

Or rather, they get some aspect of what they’re talking about, but lack the authority of experience. They’ve read a lot about a particular subject and have re-spun the information into something new. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this — it’s what we’re taught to do in school, year after year — but it can be detrimental if the positive feedback received for remixing borrowed experience diminishes the author’s desire (or ability) to go out and learn something firsthand. To collect new knowledge for the next generation of information collage-makers to work with.

This idea that one should go out and pursue novel information, rather than depending on what’s already been documented by others extends beyond business and money and relationship advice and the myriad other things upon which we tend to give advice, sometimes based solely on the advice others have given to us. It also applies to personal things: our philosophy, spirituality, and emotional stability.

Perhaps most importantly, going out into the world and experiencing something grants knowledge of how you’d respond to certain stimuli, in situ. How you’d actually respond if held at gunpoint or found yourself in an unfamiliar country without access to money. Or had a massive opportunity you could pursue, but only through great effort and sacrifice.

We all have theories about how we’ll respond in these situations, but they’re generally based on the experiences of others (or experiences they’ve borrowed and delivered to you).

Books, movies, blogs, and all the other media through which we can transfer information and ideas are wonderful, but you can’t truly know what you’re made of, what’s real and what’s supposition, until you go out and earn your authority.

Update: April 14, 2017

This desire many people have to have the trappings of expertise without first experiencing anything that would guide them toward expertise hasn’t flagged in the years since I wrote this. If anything, there are more people posturing and propping up Potempkin Instagram accounts and blogs than ever before. There’s some great stuff out there, and we live in a Golden Age of communication. But there’s still a basic media literacy that’s lacking amongst the general public that would help sort the legit stuff from the folks who’re just going through the motions of legitimacy.