Knowledge is a Double-Edged Sword

‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’

Bhagavad Gita (X1, 12)

Said by Robert Oppenheimer following the first successful nuclear explosion

On July 16, 1945, the first successful nuclear explosion occurred in New Mexico. This was a monumental breakthrough for the physics field, as well as instrumental in the surrender of Japan in World War 2. In two explosions, the genius and terror of science was demonstrated.

Witnessing the havoc his own creation could elicit, Oppenheimer became concerned with the misuse of scientific inventions. Along with other prominent physicists who shared the same concerns, Oppenheimer and his peers would eventually form the World Academy of Art and Science. One of the academy’s goals is to discuss and share ideas of scientific discovery irrespective of political boundaries.

An important phrase comes to mind – ‘just because we could, doesn’t mean we should.’ As knowledge of everything continues to expand and deepen, our utilisation of what we know needs to be met with careful considerations of whether we should. Using the example above, the atomic bomb has not been used since, despite the prevalence of continued war in many regions. There are probably reasons beyond our understanding, but one factor is that consequences are likely too catastrophic.

How does this idea apply to ourselves as health professionals? There are many clients who we will come across with blaring knowledge gaps that we’d like to fill. As much as we would like to fill those gaps, we must be careful with how much we fill, as well as whether this information should be presented to them in the first place.

An example that comes to mind is in the field of nutrition. Macronutrient tracking is a common recommendation for the management of weight and performance. The information itself is highly useful but in the hands of the wrong person, can have negative consequences. Consider this extreme case – you come across a client who is obsessed about body image. They are already training beyond what you would recommend, and obsessing over the types of foods they eat. Would presenting them the knowledge of macronutrient tracking be beneficial to someone who already shows obsessive behaviour?

I would like to think that most of us would say no. Instead, most of us should recommend they visit a dietitian, who are far more trained in nursing disordered eating habits and unhealthy food beliefs. Consider a less extreme example – someone who has ‘slipped off the bandwagon’ due to a busy work schedule has enlisted your services to help them get back into shape. For the most part, they’re aware of certain types of foods they should be eating, and never struggled to maintain their weight prior to a busy schedule.

Is prescribing macronutrient tracking necessary? Or just a revision of the food pyramid and lifestyle choices?

Our goal as professionals is to prescribe what we deem as necessary to the individual in front of us. The ability to match knowledge and pragmatism is the sign of a great coach. We must recognise that the tools and information we give can be applied in both a positive and negative way. With this in mind, we must always remember – just because we could, doesn’t mean we should.