This I Believe

Charles - Fresno, California
Entered on November 2, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65

I believe in the absolute importance of lifelong learning. As I’ve lived through 64 years of experience husband and father, citizen, soldier, and businessman, I’ve become increasingly convinced that much of what we ascribe to the force of our personal capabilities and commitments is the result of fate, either through the accidents of birth or fortune.

The belief that we, as individuals, are inherently superior, or inferior, to others, as manifested by physical or material achievement or social circumstances, is, in my view, more the result of vanity than reality. We are all subject to the powerful influence of social biases which institutionalize and collectivize beliefs of relative inherent superiority as tribal norms. Be these pressures simple or complex, they are relentless. Beyond fundamental tenets of right and wrong, the only mechanism which can allow us control of the effects of social conventions upon our lives is continuous liberal education about their source, intent, and impact. Indeed, learning about our world reciprocally forms and strengthens our basic view of fairness to ourselves and others. Thus, intellectual nurturing strengthens our ability to understand, and therefore control the effects of mass culture on our individual lives. Once obtained, education cannot be taken away from one, regardless of social or economic fortune or misfortune. It is ours, so long as we retain the mental faculties necessary for its employment.

If we, individually or collectively, are to pursue the ends of a just society, where we enjoy the inalienable rights enumerated in 1776, we must avail ourselves of those mental tools necessary to make sense of an increasingly complex world. At all times in our history we have seen examples of the impact of education on the lives of people. Lincoln, born to the most crushing poverty and ignorance, became our national savior through education. Conversely, we have seen countless examples of people endowed with every material and social gift become wasted souls through the lack of intellectual and moral development.

I perceive it to be regrettable that convention too often defines education as a means to some material end, such as status, wealth, and power. Returning to my basic premise, these rewards, more often than not, have more to do with luck than we are wont to admit. They are illusory and ultimately unsatisfying. Our existence, on the other hand, as manifested through human consciousness, is the product of our intellect and emotion. Both of which are constantly enriched and revivified through new learning.

We are fortunate to live in a time when continuing education has never been more convenient with the virtualization of the pedagogical experience through the Internet. A transition in higher education is occurring which makes this experience more convenient in terms of time and expense for a larger number of people than ever before, at all phases of lives which, while increasingly complex, are availed with a growing array of learning opportunities. I urge all to seize these invaluable experiences to the benefit of us all.