In a culture where we place a high premium on knowing things it is easy to overlook that it doesn’t automatically follow that we also understand them.
To paraphrase Einstein, knowing things is easy, it is understanding them that is the challenge. We are taught early in school that there are things we should know, and we are tested on this to demonstrate that we have ‘learned’ them. But learning is more complicated than simply memorising and recalling information. True learning means that we have understood the ideas and concepts we are being fed. We can see how they relate to other things we know, make connections, see possibilities… This is the stuff of self-assurance, personal development, creativity, and much more.
To understand, we must digest the information in such a way that we can make sense of it and then apply the understanding. When we have understood we may even forget the original concepts and information; how many things do you understand but you can no longer remember how it came about that you do?
Knowing is easy, there’s always somebody ready to tell you what you need to know. Understanding on the other hand requires commitment and even courage; we don’t always want to understand what we know.