Last Saturday, I was invited as guest speaker to talk about knowledge at Key Science Academy Abuja’s speech and prize giving day. Senator Kwankwaso (proprietor?) was in the audience; so were his friends from the National Assembly. As policy makers, I was glad that they were there, because we are yet to take education seriously in Nigeria.
I briefly mentioned how Kwankwaso used power in the service of knowledge – at a point sending 501 students for postgraduate studies abroad. And how he invited me in 2011 to Kano to share my knowledge with him.
Here’s a summary of that talk.
There is this age-old debate about who’s more beneficial to society: a scholar or a rich man.
Today, I want to deepened the conversation and include another variable: a ruler. Therefore, who is more beneficial, influential or useful to the society: a scholar, a rich man or a ruler? In other words, choose one: knowledge, wealth or power?
I will hazard an opinion and say knowledge is more useful, knowledge is more important and knowledge grants more influence.
If only there’s a record with relevant data documenting influential people in history so that we could compare them on the three variables. Fortunately for us, there is.
In 1978, Michael Hart wrote “The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History” in which he listed all the most influential people in history in order of their reach and influence.
If we are to examine the first 10 persons on that list alone, we would get the answer we seek.
When we go through the first ten individuals, we realize that the most influential people in history were religious leaders, scientists and inventors – all persons of knowledge.
For instance, the first person on the list was Prophet Muhammad (SAW) the prophet of Islam – a man of knowledge. The second person was Isaac Newton who gave us the laws of motion and universal gravitation; a scientist, a man of knowledge.
The third person was Jesus Christ, a man of knowledge. The fourth person on Hart’s list was Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, a man of knowledge. The fifth on the list was Confucius, founder of Confucianism.
And number six was St. Paul who expanded Christianity after Jesus, also a man of knowledge. The seventh was Ts’ai Lun, the inventor of paper – a man of talent and knowledge. The eighth person was Johann Gutenberg who invented the movable press and printed Bibles.
The next person on the list was Christopher Columbus, often derided as a fool, but led Europe to the Americas, gifting his people the knowledge of the world beyond.
The 10th person was Albert Einstein, who gave us the theory of relativity, a scientist, a man of knowledge. The list continued in this fashion from 11th to 20th: laden with the people of knowledge e.g. Galileo, Moses (AS), Aristotle, Euclid, Darwin, etc.
A ruler or a rich man wasn’t mentioned until number 17 (a Chinese ruler Shih Huang) and 18 (Augustus Caesar).
Who were the kings and the wealthiest men in the world during the time of these 10 people?
Why weren’t they remembered? I concede that we remember some of the rulers of those times but usually in reference to the aforementioned. For example, we remember the Caesar during the time of Jesus only because of Jesus (AS).
Wealth is even the least influential or enduring: who was the richest man in the world during the time of Jesus Christ or Muhammad (SAW)? The world doesn’t remember or doesn’t care.
I asked the audience who was the richest man in Africa. We all agreed that it was Dangote. I asked if Dangote would be remembered in the next 200 years. “We don’t know,” I answered. But we do know that there were many “richest men in Africa” before him none of whom is remembered today.
Even in the contemporary world, knowledge/talent/education is quite influential – Bill Gates would be remembered in the next centuries, not because of his wealth, but because of his knowledge and what he did with it.
In the 21st Century also, we have influential people of knowledge such as Elon Musk, a South African resident in America who wants to make electric cars commonplace as Henry Ford did with the motorcar, Musk also wants to fly tourists to space.
Also, if you examine Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2018 and you would discover many people of talent/knowledge on the list who don’t necessarily have money or power.
I’m not saying power and wealth are bad. No. Actually, it’s good to have all the three so that you can use them as tools for good. But it is rare to find someone who embodies all the three. And when we are pushed to pursue one, as we sometimes are, I recommend you choose knowledge. Because that choice may also land you the other two.
More importantly, it’s only knowledge that has a predictable path to its acquisition. In the case of power, even a prince is not certain that he one day will be king. Political power in a democratic setting is even less predictable.
In the case of wealth, 1001 books have been written on how to get rich. You may read all of them and even implement their advice and still die poor.
Knowledge, however, has a defined path to its acquisition. You only need to go to school – whatever kind of school.
Do you want a degree? Go to the university for four years. If you want to add a master’s or a Ph.D., just stay in school for more years.
Also, you don’t lose knowledge once you become a scholar. Einstein and Newton didn’t lose their knowledge until they died. Presidents and prime minister during their time did.
You can lose wealth too. The world is laden with people who were once rich.
I concede that there are exceptions such as the Pharaohs and Ghengis Khan. But what is the legacy of these dictators?
While we can point to the legacy of Lun, Jesus and Newton, what is the legacy of the Pharaohs? The Pyramids? While those are legacies that still stand today and while I concede that the Pharaohs commissioned the Pyramids, some may ask the question: who designed them? The people of knowledge. That’s who.
So choose one: knowledge, wealth or power? I recommend knowledge. Because the pen is indeed mightier than the sword – and cash too.