A man, though wise, should never be ashamed
Of learning more, and must unbend his mind.
THERE ARE FAR TOO MANY WONDERS IN THE WORLD FOR ANY OF US TO QUIT EXPLORING. Even if we’re advanced in age and reputed to be wise, there are still many good things left to be learned — and some of these may be facts that will hurt us not to know. If we’re truly wise, we’ll make a commitment to lifelong learning.
One thing that I’ve learned so far is that learning things can be scary! New truths force us to reorganize our lives. They may require us to part company with some thoughts and deeds that have previously been a part of our security system. As George Bernard Shaw wrote to someone once, “You have learned something. That always feels at first as if you had lost something.” Our “comfort zones,” as we call them, are good and we all need to have them, but we can’t stay inside them all the time. On the inside of our comfort zones there may be a good deal of coziness, but there’s very little learning, and learning is an unavoidable necessity if there’s going to be any progress in our lives.
Actually, however, if we can learn to launch out into the realm of new discovery, whatever comfort may be lost is often replaced by a new kind of joy: “I find my joy of living in the fierce and ruthless battles of life, and my pleasure comes from learning something” (August Strindberg). Those who’ve tried it report that an ounce of new discovery is worth a pound of old, ill-informed comfort.
Learning is particularly important in our personal relationships. It’s not too much to say that most of the relationship difficulties we have stem from a failure to be open to new knowledge about other people. We know each other so poorly, and relate to one another so inadequately, because we’re content with what we already “know” about others and are afraid to open our hearts to deeper learnings.
So to be learners we must humble ourselves before others, being willing to ask and willing to be contradicted. Adopting these mental postures is not easy, and it doesn’t happen by accident. Being a learner calls for a commitment and a bravery that are nothing short of noble.
“Learning is not attained by chance. It must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence” (Abigail Adams).