Damage & Too Much and Too Little

Damage by Wendell Berry

I.

I have a steep wooded hillside that I wanted to be able to pasture occasionally, but it had no water supply.

About halfway to the top of the slop there is a narrow bench, on which I thought I could make a small pond. I hired a man with a bulldozer to dig one. He cleared away trees and then formed the pond, cutting into the hill on the upper side, piling the loosened dirt into a curving earthwork on the lower.

The pond appeared to be a success. Before the bulldozer quit work, water had already begun to seep in. Soon there was enough to support a few head of stock. To heal the exposed ground, i fertilized it and sowed it with grass and clover.

We had an extremely wet fall and winter, with the usual freezing and thawing. The ground grew heavy with water, and soft. The earthwork slumped; a large slice of the woods floor on the upper side slipped down into the pond.

The trouble was a familiar one: too much power, too little knowledge. The fault was mine.

I was careful to get expert advice. But this only exemplifies what i already knew. No expert ever knows anything about every place, not even everything about any place. If one’s knowledge of one’s whereabouts is insufficient, if one’s judgment is unsound, then expert advice is of little use.

Read the rest of the story here.

To Much and Too Little: Reflections on the Above Story

II.

“The trouble was a familiar one” writes Berry, “too much power, too little knowledge.” Today everyone is his or her own expert, not because of what they know but because of what power they possess, what they own, how many followers or friends they have on social media, what latest gadget fills their pants pockets. I have a power saw, I received it for Christmas a couple of years back. It is one of those fancy circular saws with a little laser sight finder (I’m not even sure if that’s what they’re called!). I have never one before I got this one as a gift. I’ve only ever watched others use them, but with that saw I am now an “expert” with lost of power and very little knowledge. The first time I fired that thing up and zipped through a board of wood this rang true for me in a way I’ve never experienced before.

III.

The trouble was a familiar one,” writes a (mis)read Berry, “too much knowledge, too little power.” The age of too much information is heaped upon us, like a dump truck full of fresh earth, collective knowledge overflows the unleveled ground in our heads. Troubles on wall street, earthquakes in Asia,  problems right next door, wondering how we are supposed to construct a homemade play-set out of this wood and nails and spinning blade of steel, while backing chocolate chip cookies, listening to the latest album of so and so, while the Hulu plays and Colbert explains the evening farce. We update our status hoping someone will validate our experience, we speak only a small sliver of the intake we experience.

There is too much input, too much knowledge, yet we don’t know what to do with it and it begins to overtake.

Sometimes we have too little power.

Published by

Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.