Knowledge, Volition and Action



Changing the world is hard (imagine that) but the formula for changing anything is the same whether we’re changing our gardens or changing the world.  And it’s this –

Knowledge, Volition and Action.

Knowledge (noun) –

(i) facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.

(ii) awareness or familiarity gained by experience of a fact or situation. (1)

Taking these simple definitions the very first thing we need to do if we want to effect change in the world is –

Not look away.

We can’t gain any useful knowledge – in anything – unless we are willing to face the situation and learn.

Volition (noun) –

(i) the faculty or power of using one’s will. (2)

If we don’t look away from the suffering in the world most of us will build up a desire to change it. That’s why it’s such a tragedy when we look away because this is the very thing that will stop the change.  However, if we keep looking, keep gaining knowledge, this desire will soon translate into a willingness to undertake the work needed to bring about change.  We will begin to bring about change by our own volition. Not because we are guilty or afraid but because we see the needs clearly and  believe that it’s worth trying to meet those needs.

Action (noun) –

 (i) the fact or process of doing something, typically to achieve an aim. (3)

Nothing happens without action.  That’s just common sense.  And most of us would take action if we believed there was even half a chance it wouldn’t be a total waste of time.

We don’t want to look at the suffering in the world because it makes us uncomfortable and we don’t see the point in making ourselves feel bad when there’s nothing we can do to help.

But that’s where the tragedy lies – it’s not true that it’s a waste of time.  It’s not true that we’re too small or insignificant or powerless.

The very act of looking, of learning and being open to seeing what is happening is what gives us knowledge.  This knowledge leads us to have the will to change things – it creates the volition.  And it is this volition that moves us to find the action(s) we need to take to bring about change.

Let’s simplify it for a minute.  Let’s go back to the example of a garden.

Step 1 – look at the garden.  Really look, stop ignoring it and pay attention.  Examine it’s good points and bad points,  see where the sun shines, which parts of it are good, which parts of it need changing. Have a look at the soil, the size, the aspect.  Learn about the garden.  Gain knowledge.

Step 2 – having learned about the garden and decided what it needs and having concluded that with a bit of work it could be a very nice/productive/tidy/pleasing garden – the will to change the garden begins to take root.  Volition just kicked in. (Sorry about the pun, I am unable to avoid puns – I can’t help it, it may be a disease).

Step 3 – make a plan and make a start.  It may be a small plan and a small start but now you are knowledgeable and willing you are in with a chance of creating the garden you always wanted.

Knowledge + Volition + Action = Change



(2) ibid

(3) ibid



  1. This is a useful post, Trisha. I think most of us tend to feel overwhelmed by the sheer size of many of the world’s problems, so we choose to direct our attention elsewhere rather than be reminded of our own perceived powerlessness. But we can always do something, no matter how small, to help someone. Thank you for the reminder.

  2. I’m glad you found it useful, Charles – and I agree it does all seem impossible sometimes – but it really is those tiny actions all joining together that probably creates the most sustained changes in reality. For a variety of totally unconnected reasons I was a bit overwhelmed by life yesterday and when I read what you said in your comment it had the effect of making me feel less hopeless – which is a little bit crazy I know given that you were answering what I had written. It’s sort of like I said something, you reflected it back succinctly and somehow I heard what you had to say more clearly in that moment than my own words. So I suppose that’s the theory in action, really – so, thank you very much for making me feel better. I appreciate it.

  3. I agree that even a tiny bit makes a difference. Bronxboy is right that these stories can get overwhelming and then we shut down… It’s a normal reaction. But then. we must not stop there. We must return to the matter at hand and find a way to add our voice. TY!

    1. I completely agree, Elizabeth – I love the idea of finding a way – ‘to add our voice’ – thanks.

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