The Difference Between Knowledge and Knowing

When an early 20s Matt Damon sat down with his two best friends to write the script for Good Will Hunting I doubt greatly that he thought he’d win an Oscar. I’m also pretty certain he had no idea that one day that film would change my life.  While I credit my own hard work for getting me into Oxford it was watching Good Will Hunting that made me apply.

In recent years I’ve gone back to the film and the same scene always stands out for me now in a way it didn’t when I first watched it.  Robin Williams plays Will (Damon’s) therapist and early on in the film takes him out to the park to give the following speech.  It gets to the heart of why I think factual knowledge, alone, isn’t enough for living a full life.  As someone who went on to study at such a high level obviously I think knowing stuff is useful but we must never, ever, convince ourselves that it is enough.

Sean Maguire’s Speech:  “If I asked you about art you could give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo? You know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspiration, him and the Pope, sexual orientation, the whole works right? But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel.  You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling, or seen that.

“If I ask you about women, you could probably give me a syllabus of your personal favourites. You may even have been laid a few times. But you can’t tell me what it feels like to wake up next to a woman and feel truly happy…. You’re a tough kid, so if I ask about war you’ll probably quote Shakespeare at me: “Once more into the breach dear friends”… But you’ve never been near one. You’ve never held your best friend’s head in your lap as he gasped his last breath looking to you for help.
“Ask about love, you’ll probably quote me a sonnet, but you’ve never looked at a woman and been totally vulnerable, known someone who could level you with her eyes feeling like God put an Angel on Earth just for you… who could rescue you from the depths of Hell. And you wouldn’t know what it’s like to be her Angel. To have that love for her be there forever, through anything. Through cancer. And you wouldn’t know about sleeping sitting up in a hospital room for 2 months holding her hand because the doctor can see in your eyes that the terms ‘visiting hours’ don’t apply to you. You don’t know about real loss because that only occurs when you love something more than you love yourself, and I doubt you dared to love anybody that much.
“I look at you, I don’t see an intelligent, confident man. I see a cocky scared shitless kid.”