Knowledge vs. Ability

By Greg Baer M.D.

June 22, 2011

Louis called me and said, "I just can't believe I keep doing this."

"Doing what?" I asked.

"I've read the marriage book. I've read several of the other Real Love books too, and I've been working at this for months now, but I keep getting irritated at Margie [his wife]."

"So after all that reading, you figure you should know better, right?"

"Yes, I should."

"Ever play the piano?"


"In a matter of an hour or so, I could show you how to read music, so that if you saw a note printed on a piece of sheet music, you could play it on the piano. It's not terribly different from learning to read numbers. Making sense so far?"


"But then if I put a whole bunch of notes on the page, stacked on top of each other and complicated by other musical notations—like the piano part for Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto—you'd be instantly overwhelmed. You wouldn't stand a chance in the world of playing that piece, even though you 'knew' all the notes. Still making sense?"

"Yep, I'd be lost."

"Same with Real Love. You know many of the notes—you have some knowledge—but that doesn't suddenly give you the ability to play them under difficult circumstances. When you're interacting with Margie, you get confused, and it's not like you're playing the notes in a sterile environment. When she gets angry at you, that further affects your ability to do the right thing. And then there's the effect of your entire childhood, which would take us days to talk about."

"So you're telling me I shouldn't feel so bad when I screw up."

"Exactly. Reading some books gave you a little bit of knowledge—emphasis on the word little—but that little bit doesn't magically give you the ability to make it work in real-life situations. In fact, you'll discover that the more you grow in your ability to love, the more you'll realize that at this point even your knowledge is more limited than you realize. We don't really understand something until it changes our behavior. Until we can apply it, knowledge is just a theory and not worth a great deal."

Before we can really understand Real Love, we have to make a great number of mistakes with it. There's no other way to learn, and while we're engaged in that process we need to relax and let go of the guilt we have been taught is required each time we make mistakes.

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About the author 

Greg Baer, M.D.

I am the founder of The Real Love® Company, Inc, a non-profit organization. Following the sale of my successful ophthalmology practice I have dedicated the past 25 years to teaching people a remarkable process that replaces all of life's "crazy" with peace, confidence and meaning in various aspects of their personal lives, including parenting, marriages, the workplace and more.

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