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In defense of learning

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10/29/2010

In defense of learning photo

The night before the first day of school, I’d get butterflies in my stomach and wouldn’t sleep a wink. Ever since I could remember, the idea of learning fascinated me. I was the kid who spent hours curled up on my favorite armchair with a book. I was the kid who threw temper tantrums when my parents would make me go outside—sans book—because I would have rather spent the time reading.

I proudly call myself an intellectual. No, I don’t sit in dusky cafes discussing the philosophical underpinnings of an obscure text. But I have been known to roam the library, to spend hours to find the right word to describe a thought or a thing, and to conduct tricky research just to form my own opinion on something.

My yearning for learning likely is just a mutation in my curiosity gene. And because of that, I’ve become a repository of random trivia—great for bar nights and Trivial Pursuit. But it’s also a way for me to do what Hercule Poirot was fond of suggesting: We have to give our gray matter exercise.

Constantly training my memory, reading new things, participating in discussions, and striving to attain knowledge is the best way I know to stay ahead of the masses. It helps me gain perspective and make my own choices. Asking questions is what our species does (and the best question isn’t what? It’s why? or how?). I’ll know that it’s time to go when I no longer want to know anything, no longer want to strive for something more, no longer want to engage in discussions for the sake of the discussion rather than the subject.

A character in a Russian youth literature book I recently discovered imparted these words of wisdom: “One cannot be too smart, but for some reason everyone just complains about their ability to remember but never about their ability to think.” The same book posed this philosophical axiom: Our civilization can only survive if we live in a world where the intellect is a more prized possession than strength, power, or money.

My goal is to live my life in a way that allows what I believe is the most noble effort—the pursuit of knowledge. The understanding that we constantly need to improve is what separates us from other animals. Well, that, and the opposable-thumbs-for-better-gripping thing. If that makes me obnoxious or makes me sound pretentious, so be it.

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