Knowing and Doing

In a collection of Old Norse poems called the Havamal, I found verse 23 to be especially intriguing. It read like this:

A foolish man
is all night awake,
pondering over everything;
he then grows tired;
and when morning comes,
all is lament as before.

This poem, although short, can be relatable to anyone who is a “worry-wart”. There are two main interpretations that I pulled from this stanza. First, a man or woman who stays up a night worrying about something is simply doing so in vain. There is no point in constantly worrying about something that you have no control over. As the foolish man continues to ponder over something all night, in the morning nothing has changed. In society, we constantly worry about what others think of us or how some may perceive us. We wonder if people think we’re unattractive or if they think we’re unintelligent.This can lead to more self-consciousness and less self-confidence. Not only is the worrying aimless, but it also leads to more harm. The second interpretation provides a call to action for the readers. It’s very easy to constantly worry about something and go to others to voice your concerns, but it’s difficult to actually do something about your problem. Even though the man in the poem continues to worry, he doesn’t actually do anything about it resulting in the same feelings of sadness and worry the next day. Although, people tend to worry a lot and complain to others, little actually do something about it. Procrastination is this concept at its prime. The week before a big exam, we constantly worry about how important it is, but don’t actually study for it. As a result, the night before the test we’re still worrying about it because nothing has actually been done to change how things are.

One example from “The Grapes of Wrath” where this concept is repeated is when the Joads stop at a gas station to get water and fill up their tank. The employee working there keeps questioning the Joads about the same issue and keeps wondering why everyone is moving west and why the economy is failing. The Joads, specifically Tom, get annoyed because he keeps asking the same question. In this case, no matter how much the man asked the question and worried, the situation of the economy and the migration westward would not change. Unless, the employee joined a worker’s union or migrated west himself, his worrying is pointless. We need to stop thinking and knowing and we need to start changing and doing.


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