You may be familiar with an essay that I wrote in 2008 on the topic of Respectful Irreverence as an approach to tactical training topics. I want to explore an underlying theme in more detail, the theme of Sapere Aude, “Dare to Know.”
Originally, this Latin phrase was used to advise people to “trust their own reason.” Don’t take someone else’s word and don’t automatically doubt your own logic or impression of a situation. If something doesn’t make sense to you, figure it out. In this way, Sapere Aude ties in very well with the concept of Respectful Irreverence.
In the late 18th century, Immanuel Kant used the phrase in his famous essay “What is Enlightenment?” This essay has become widely regarded as the defining statement of what that period of time in the western world was all about. His advice at the opening of the article expresses the policy of Sapere Aude.
It is this concept of daring to know that I have tried to live by for several years and that I am redoubling my effort to concentrate on in the coming decade. Part of that effort is taking the helm of the Personal Defense Network, a resource which we can all use to challenge our own ideas and each others’ ideas, and to increase the overall amount of knowledge that all individuals have in regard to personal safety.
The policy of Sapere Aude means not resting on your laurels, not blindly trusting the “experts” (even ours!) and not always accepting tradition as the best choice. Age and repetition do not always equal wisdom. Education, research and experience are what lead to understanding, and it is understanding that then allows us to explain something. I always warn new instructors in my programs never to use “Rob says …” as an explanation for a concept or as an answer to a student question.
Everything that we teach has much better justification than my opinion! It is vital that people understand information and explanations without relying solely on the opinion of others. Until you have “dared to know” through questioning, experiencing and learning, you shouldn’t trust a piece of information arbitrarily.
Sometimes that’s an easy process. If a friend tells you a restaurant is great and you recommend it to someone else based on a third party, you open yourself up to not being able to explain why it is great or why it isn’t. Go to the restaurant yourself, get the experience and then decide whether or not to recommend it.
Sometimes it’s not that easy. You might not be able to experience weightlessness, for example. That said, understanding “weightlessness” through learning about physics, gravity and mass, combined with researching the experiences and experiments of others, can allow to you to know “weightlessness” very well and be capable of explaining it to someone else.
The personal defense and tactical training worlds are full of examples of what Kant describes as “The officer says, ‘Do not argue, drill!’ ” Few things are more frustrating to me than an instructor who won’t or can’t explain why his drill is important. Students who don’t think that they should be asking why, or have been conditioned not to, are almost as frustrating.
We are at a political moment in the United States where many people are concerned about exactly the same things that were bothering Kant and his Enlightenment-period peers. The Nanny State and other forces are aligned all around us to convince us that they know better and we don’t need to take responsibility, accountability or initiative for ourselves. I say that they are wrong.
As we move forward with this great new resource of the Personal Defense Network, let’s all Dare To Know as much as we can. To do that, we need to recognize that there are things we don’t know and that much of what we do “know” might not give us a complete or even accurate picture. Through this process of challenging existing information, searching for new data and then sharing our information, we can move closer to knowing what is best for each of us as individuals.
Please take advantage of this network of experts, peers and students to learn and share as much as you can. Sapere Aude!