Charles Dodgson. It’s very likely you have read one or more of his books. His first one has been translated into one hundred seventy-four languages. His main professional occupation was as a mathematics scholar, and he was also an ordained Anglican priest. Dodgson was an accomplished amateur photographer and an enthusiastic letter-writer. He wrote and received over 98,000 letters in his life and even published a book entitled Eight or Nine Wise Words about Letter-Writing.
You might not be familiar with the name Charles Dodgson. But chances are you know his best seller, Alice in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll is Dodgson’s pen name.
There are many things in life with which we are quite familiar without knowing foundational facts attendant to them. Millions sprinkle salt on their food without knowing that they are about to ingest sodium chloride. Millions drive vehicles without a clue that it has a camshaft or what it does. We could list additional examples until the cows come home.
A critical question: does it make any difference whether I know something or not? For some things it makes no difference at all. One can drive a million miles without knowing what a crankshaft is without missing a heartbeat. But for some things, knowing the facts can be critically important.
Important: knowing if a diamond which one is interested in purchasing came from a location where little children are forced to work as slave laborers. The term is blood diamonds. Or knowing if clothing was produced in an Asian sweat shop where workers are paid pennies a day.
Important: knowing the horrible racism practiced against Native Americans and African-Americans and how contemporary symbols of such cause severe angst among those so oppressed and/or their descendants. (It took the Wisconsin city in which I was born until the 1950s to rescind a law that made it illegal for an Black American to spend the night there.)
When acquiring understandings of vast importance – such as the examples above – the next question is: what can or should one do with that knowledge. Each issue demands that we wrestle with answers . . . no matter how complex the problem or how long it takes to deal with it. But it begins with critical thinking applied to honest research . . . and then followed by courageous action.