When You Know Better Do Better Maya Angelou

“When you know better, do better” is an often used quote attributed to the inspirational poet, writer, and human rights advocate, Maya Angelou. This phrase has been used to inspire people to raise their personal and professional standards and to always strive to do the right thing. It encourgaes us to reflect on our learning and assess our progress.

To many, Maya Angelou was more than a powerful and resolute writer, but a luminary, who left a lasting legacy of wisdom and wit that transcended the boundaries of societal oppression. Her works have inspired millions around the world to embrace self-awareness and to use knowledge as a tool to make a difference. Maya taught us that our decisions should be driven by knowledge, understanding and reflection.

In “A Brave and Startling Truth”, a poem written for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations, Maya Angelou encourages us all to search for new ideas and create positive change by daring to think differently. This courage of conviction has enabled generations of activists to overcome oppression and give voice to ideas that challenge society’s status quo. For those of us who strive for social and environmental justice, this quote epitomizes the degree to which our actions can be informed and invigorated by a deeper level of understanding.

Maya Angelou’s words also evoke the power of learning to enhance self-awareness and confidence. Knowledge can become an empowering force when it is paired with a greater understanding of the complexities of the world. As Maya implores us to “know better,” she also empowers us to have the courage of conviction to make a difference in whatever sphere we choose.

In her famous commencement speech to the Class of 2014 at Stanford College, Maya Angelou echoed her sentiments when she imparted her advice “to identify what needs to be done, to do it, no matter the odds.” To “know better” and then to “do better” requires that we press forward in the face of obstacles and seize opportunities to make positive change. Maya Angelou’s lifelong work of challenging oppressive systems and inspiring people to become more conscious of their actions resonates with many even today.

At the very core of “know better, do better,” is the idea that we must continuously make informed decisions to attain our goals. As Maya wisely suggested, “intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education”. We must strive to both learn and improve our decisions each day that we live. The better informed we become, the more capable we are of transforming the world.

The Power of Knowledge

Maya Angelou’s powerful phrase ‘When you know better, do better’ serves as an inspiring reminder of the power of knowledge. In today’s world we are inundated with information, yet knowledge only serves as a powerful tool when framed within the parameters of true understanding. Maya Angelou used her knowledge and deep insight to challenge oppressive systems, fight against discrimination and speak out for those who lacked a voice. With her words, she inspired generations to transcend inequality and strive for social justice.

This inspiring advice is echoed in the work of contemporary activists who promote intersectional equity and strive for positive societal transformation. They recognize the power of knowledge and use it to challenge orthodoxy and create positive change. However, the power of knowledge is not solely the domain of activists, it is within the reach of us all, and can be used to challenge injustice and bring about positive change.

We can shape our understanding of the world, our perspectives, and our actions through knowledge. When we understand the complexities of our world, know the consequences of our decisions, and recognize our privilege, we become empowered change makers. Thus, Maya Angelou’s phrase ‘when you know better, do better’ is an inspiring reminder of the full potential of knowledge.

The Necessity of Reflection

Maya Angelou’s encouragement to ‘know better, do better’ can only be achieved when paired with reflection. Engaging in a period of reflection is an essential part of gaining knowledge and developing a greater understanding of the world around us. Reflection enables us to assess our learning, identify areas for improvement, and to better understand the complexities of our decisions.

Reflection is also a process of evaluation and will be different for each individual. It requires us to look at our actions from all angles and to question whether our decisions align with our values and beliefs. When knowledge is infused with purposeful introspection, we become more aware of our impact and can make better informed decisions.

Engaging in a process of reflection allows us to develop insight and improve our self-awareness. It gives us the opportunity to question our perspective and challenge our thinking, thus enabling us to become more conscious of our decisions. By reflecting on our learning, we can better understand what we need to do to ‘know better, and do better’.

The Role of Privilege

The words ‘When you know better, do better’ remind us to consider the impact of privilege in our actions. It is important to acknowledge our privileges and recognize how they inform and shape our understanding of the world. Privilege takes many forms and can be based on race, gender, and economic status, to name a few. It informs our perspectives of the world and can limit our understanding of the complexities of power and oppression.

Holding this in mind, it is important to remember that we all have a responsibility to use our privilege to advocate for those who may not have access to the same opportunities as us. It is only through understanding of our privilege that we can work towards being better informed, and ultimately, do better. As Maya Angelou strongly echoes, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

The Impact of Acting

For those of us inspired to ‘know better, do better’ it is important to recognize the impact of our actions. Knowledge can only make a positive difference if it is taken out into the world and acted upon. Maya Angelou recognized this power and strove to make a difference within her own lifetime. Her words were an anthem for change and a call for more informed and conscious action.

Acting on knowledge is a skill and requires us to stand in our truth, in whatever form that may take. To ‘do better’ is a life long journey and requires us to constantly assess our progress, both personally and professionally. It serves as a reminder that progress is not always linear and that the journey of ‘doing better’ is never complete. With the right mix of knowledge and reflection, ‘doing better’ can become a force for positive transformation.

The Need for Social Justice

Maya Angelou’s quote ‘When you know better, do better’, is a powerful reminder of the need for social justice. Our understanding of oppressive systems and our ambiguity to challenge the status quo, can be informed by knowledge. When knowledge is paired with a determined will and courage of conviction, it can become a powerful tool for positive transformation.

Social justice requires a specific type of knowledge. It requires us to be informed about oppressive systems and to recognize our privilege and purpose in changing them. To ‘do better’ we must not be complacent and accept the status quo, but challenge structures of inequality and strive for social justice. In this way, ‘when you know better, do better’ can become a movement that spans generations and creates lasting change.

The Future of Knowing and Doing Better

Maya Angelou’s timeless phrase ‘When you know better, do better’ continues to resonate with many today. It is both an individual and a collective call to action. To ‘know better’ first requires knowledge, understanding and reflection, and then to ‘do better’ will require courage, conviction and a will to make a difference.

Maya Angelou left us a lasting legacy of inspiring words and resilient courage. Her wisdom continues to inform our actions today. In inspiring us to ‘know better, do better’, she taught us to be informed and conscious of our choices, and to strive to use knowledge as a powerful tool for creating positive change.

Dannah Hannah is an established poet and author who loves to write about the beauty and power of poetry. She has published several collections of her own works, as well as articles and reviews on poets she admires. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English, with a specialization in poetics, from the University of Toronto. Hannah was also a panelist for the 2017 Futurepoem book Poetry + Social Justice, which aimed to bring attention to activism through poetry. She lives in Toronto, Canada, where she continues to write and explore the depths of poetry and its influence on our lives.

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