Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World


Written by: on September 7, 2020

The room is large with high vaulted ceilings and windows that stretch to unimaginable heights.  The flames of the torches hanging in their wall sconces bounce off of the walls, casting dancing shadows across the endless shelves of books of and scrolls.  Each section is ordered and labeled properly: Preserved scrolls of the great philosophers, tomes that contain the wisdom of wise men and women passed down through the ages, the great classics that have served as the foundation of society, and the latest issue of Marvel’s Avengers to name a few.

Old Library (Handelingenkamer), The Hague, Netherlands | bluesyemre

They say that knowledge is power.  There is always one more thing to know, one more blind spot to cover.  If I can learn just one more thing, maybe that will be enough.  It will protect me.  My books are precious to me; my knowledge invaluable.  I pause and run my finger down the spine one of my tomes that says we treat our knowledge as “personal property to be collected and defended.  It is an ornament that allows us to rise in the pecking order.  We take what we know quite seriously.”[1]  The author is right, but it doesn’t hurt to know.  Does it?

My quest has led me to accumulate all that I want in this pursuit.  There are moments where I’m content as I sit at my desk reading and thinking aloud, my own voice echoing back to me through the chamber, confirming for me what I already know.  I would consider myself an Expert.  No one criticizes my knowledge or what I think I know because my knowledge is bulletproof.  Not that they could anyway, for what to they know?  Surely nothing close to my own knowledge.

I climb the spiral staircase into the lofts.  The chamber is quiet apart from the echoes of my own footsteps.  People used to come to me for wisdom on my Subject, saying that as well-read as I am I must have the answer.  And why wouldn’t I?  They don’t come anymore, but that’s their problem.  I can’t help it that they don’t understand my brilliance.  Besides, it’s also my own choice.  The world is becoming more and more complicated and I would shudder to utter those damnable words: “I don’t know.”  The thought makes me sick, causes bile to rise in the back of my throat.  Knowledge has cemented my power, my station, my livelihood.  My knowledge must remain unquestioned.

I know what I know and what I know is that no one can take me to task if I don’t allow them to ask.  And so I reside in my ivory tower, inundated by my own knowledge.

I sit in the armchair nestled in the corner.  It’s been years since I locked the door to my tower.  I see no need to leave and no need for anyone to come in.  The curtains are drawn to block anyone from looking in, but it also blocks me from looking out.  Outside of my tower, there is so much uncertainty and so much that is unknown to me.  You never know what tomorrow is going to bring unless you cultivate what tomorrow will look like.  Nothing new means consistency, comfort, that nothing will challenge you past what you already know.

Yet the comfort is becoming increasingly unsettling.  A discontentment with where I am is slowly building in my heart. Outside the window I can hear life going on as the world continues to change.  But I like my tower.  I love my knowledge.  If those are taken away, if those things are challenged, where does it leave me?

“I don’t–” Catching myself, I push the thought away, immediately grabbing the weathered copy of Homer’s Odyssey on the table.  This I know.  This I’ve read more times than I can count.  It’s a familiar story – one that’s been retold countless times.  There are no surprises here.  I open the book and my eyes fall on the page, yet my heart wanders.  I close the book and put it down, frowning as the sound of cheers erupts outside my window.  I gaze at the curtain and my heart begins to race.

What is happening outside of these walls?



[1] Nassim Taleb, The Black Swan (New York: Random House, 2007) quoted in Steve D’Souza and Diana Renner’s Not Knowing (London: LID Publishing Ltd, 2014), 32.

Image taken from: https://bluesyemre.com/old-library-handelingenkamer-the-hague-netherlands/


About the Author

Dylan Branson

Small town Kentuckian living and learning in the big city of Hong Kong.

14 responses to “Accumulation”

  1. Shawn Cramer says:

    Great way to highlight the phrase “I don’t know.” Taking a beginner’s mindset is a helpful posture in innovation, but it is humbling, awkward, and most of use avoid places we don’t excel (You’ll never see me shoot a basketball). I am trying to make it a practice to learn new skills as to be reminded of the power of that phrase, “I don’t know.”

    • Dylan Branson says:

      I hear you on shooting a basketball haha.

      It’s interesting when we stop and think about how not knowing something instinctively causes us to ignore or avoid an activity or path. Even if it’s something relatively simply theory, we begin to second guess ourselves — and that’s without mentioning “bigger” experiences! If we keep avoiding the risks, how do we learn to grow? If we refuse to let the phrase “I don’t know” rule our lives and then move into a space of learning, how drastically would that change the way we approach things?

  2. Darcy Hansen says:

    Not sure if this is you speaking or a character who lies within your imagination, but I’m loving the imagery and storytelling. The tension between knowing LOTS and knowing deep inside that there’s still LOTS to know and experience in life is palpable. Leaders have to walk a fine line of being confident in our knowledge, and being ok to say, “I don’t know, but I’d love to learn.” It is definitely a balancing act, especially if we have broad influence. I look forward to reading “what is happening outside those walls” in the weeks to come.

    • Dylan Branson says:

      I think to an extent, we all have this constant push and pull of trapping knowledge for ourselves. I’ve had some incredible mentors in Hong Kong who have been very candid about what they don’t know. It’s encouraging to have leaders and people I look up to who are willing to acknowledge they don’t have the answers to everything. I love speculation because I feel like it opens the mind to following the path of curiosity. Sure, sometimes nothing may come out of it – or it could go in the opposite direction – but sometimes those mind games really open our eyes.

  3. Greg Reich says:

    After reading your blog I have to wonder if it is true that “knowledge is power.” Could it be more of a house of cards than a reality? The more I learn I have to remind myself that there was a time that ignorant was bliss. With knowledge comes responsibility and expectations. Once pandoras box is opened it can never be shut. Can it be that the ivory tower of knowledge is a form of purgatory for those unwilling to leave the tower and explore other possibilities?

    • Dylan Branson says:

      “Can it be that the ivory tower of knowledge is a form of purgatory for those unwilling to leave the tower and explore other possibilities?”

      First off, I LOVE this imagery.

      I think that knowledge provides us with a sense of security. If we “know” this part of town isn’t the place to walk at night, we feel “safe” in that knowledge. If we “know” that the Other is someone we can’t trust, it provides us security and justification when we don’t interact with them. But if that knowledge is never questioned, if we simply spout off our platitudes using the same language, is it true security? Or is it, like you said, a house of cards that can come tumbling down at any moment?

  4. Chris Pollock says:

    Eesh, bro. That was an intense read! Absolutely loved it. A gift.

    I may be off with anything I might try to write in response to or in curiosity of this piece. So well put together. The story of it was moving.

    Help me to understand. It seems that with deepening knowledge, feeling deepens? Engagement deepens? And, it can become a little overwhelming. The response, in the acquisition of an ever-deepening knowledge, a closing off (a shutting down or creation of barriers between)? Why is that?

    Appreciate the movement of this story. The world is a confusing place (especially, right now). Retreat of whatever sort seems like the safest way.

    Seriously. Riveting.

    • Dylan Branson says:

      Interpret it as you will 😉 That’s the beauty of story.

      I think we close ourselves off when we become “Experts” because we feel like we’ve earned that reprieve. We’ve worked hard to attain our knowledge; it’s not a little thing by any means! If we’ve read one book on a topic, we begin to feel we’ve read them all and begin to gloss over the minute details that may be a game changer in the topic. We don’t want to be questioned because our knowledge has become intertwined with my identity. “I’m a Professor of…” carries with it a lot of weight and respect for most people. Why would we want to give that power up?

  5. Jer Swigart says:

    It’s like you captured the internal voice of every academic…perhaps every human. I was espeially moved by the moment when you mentioned that they don’t come anymore and that it’s their problem. I’m struck by the arrogance of certainty that, on the one hand, can inspire confidence in others while, on the other hand, drive potential friends away. Certainty, it seems, is a lonely mirage.

    • Dylan Branson says:

      I’m reminded of Joe Walsh’s song, “Lucky That Way”. The song sets up this idea of how we stand in awe of celebrities and wondering how they get to where they are. To Walsh’s mind, he simply says he’s “just lucky that way.” But one line always stood out to me in the song: “If you just act like you know what you’re doing, everybody thinks that you do.”

      I would agree with him to an extent. How often do leaders and experts trudge along with an air that they know where they’re going, when in reality they’re struggling with the certainty of their path? The expectations on leaders to be “certain” about their path – whether self-imposed or imposed by their followers – weighs heavily whether we realize it or not.

  6. John McLarty says:

    Simon and Garfunkle once sang, “I have my books and my poetry to protect me. … I am a rock, I am an island.” Your post vividly describes how easy it is for us to retreat into the cocoons of certainty and shield ourselves from the discomfort of learning new things or having our knowledge challenged.

    • Dylan Branson says:

      When we feel our identities or power is being challenged, I think it’s natural to retreat into some semblance of security. How do we stop ourselves from retreating when we feel attacked? How do we cultivate that spirit of humility?

      • John McLarty says:

        Friedman’s understanding of “self-differentiation” has been helpful again this week. Finding a way to maintain a healthy distance- while not detaching- helps us deflect the attacks. If we’re not in the weeds, it’s easier to see what the conflict is really more about.

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