I read an article today about gender theory, and while I understood almost nothing (thank you, by the way, literary theorists of yore, for always choosing a three-syllable word when a one-syllable word would suffice; you make my life so very much easier), I found one particular sentence rather interesting:
Knowledge, after all, is not itself power, although it is the magnetic field of power.
– Eve Sedgewick, “Axiomatic”
This line stuck out to me so much that I even copied onto the back cover of my notebook so I’d be able to come back to it later. I suppose later is now.
The simple idea of stripping knowledge-for-knowledge’s-sake of power seems rather simple, yet our society appears to hold the opposite view. Children are expected to attend college because it gives them knowledge which gets them a better job. People pursue higher degrees to accumulate more knowledge, and we bestow them with fancy titles like Master of Arts or Doctor of Philosophy. Knowledge seems to hold some sway, at least in the general population, but I find myself asking the same question Eve Sedgewick introduces in the line I quoted: is simply acquiring enough? Shouldn’t we go further, do something with that knowledge we’ve accumulated, change the world?
It is in our actions and in our exercising our knowledge for the betterment of others that we gain true power – in how our actions, and very lives, affect those around us. Although this train of thought takes me down a very different passage than I’m sure Sedgewick ever intended or thought her work would transport a reader, I feel my meditations are especially applicable to my current position in life.
Over the last few days, I’ve come to understand just how important friendship is. Friendship, like Sedgewick’s knowledge, is magnetic at times. What draws two people together from across a library table, a crowded coffee shop, a classroom, or a world? How do we manage to find friends who seem to know us better than we know ourselves? How would we ever survive without this powerful, magnetic, magical (to quote a dear friend of mine) bond with another person?
In the Middle Ages, people believed that everyone had invisible darts of light shooting from his eyes. They believed that when we found a person with whom a strong relationship was possible, our eye darts would connect with his. The idea of friendship (or love) at first sight seems especially well founded in this idea – this idea that assigns a supernatural power to human relationships, that takes human relationships to a magical level, a level beyond our control or understanding.
Friendship changes people; it changes worlds. I know that my friends bring out the best in me, for if they didn’t, I wouldn’t bother maintaining the relationship. I would not and could not be the person I am today without the influence of friendships both past and present, and I hope that others can say the same about me. It’s a scary thing, friendship. Trusting another person with a piece of yourself, asking that person to keep it safe, to keep you safe. But, in being a terrifying thing, it is also a beautiful thing, a magical thing. Like knowledge friendships can be accumulated and stored on shelves (or Facebook profiles), left to be admired for their quantity rather than quality. Yet, in doing so, we erase the very fabric of the relationship – change it at its core – for it is no longer a relationship, but a title.
Friendship is a powerful force, yet, like knowledge, it must be cultivated, worked for, maintained, and exercised. Friendships cannot exist in a vacuum. They are meant to change lives, to change worlds.
I count myself lucky to have friends across the nation, and even some across the world, for whom I am willing to cry, to whom I am willing give my time and trust, for whom I work and strive to be a better person. Friendship is work, yes, but in the end, when you’ve met the right people, those who are willing to give all same effort, that work becomes magic.
Let there be more magic in the world. Let it start with you and circle back to you.