If you’re reading this, your heart’s still beating. Blood still courses through your arteries. It’s safe to say you’re alive. Or is it?
Is it possible to be living but also dead?
To illustrate my point, I’ll first tell you two stories.
I was at my school year’s twentieth reunion dinner. I went to a boy’s school. There were a hundred guys in the room, aged 37 or 38. I was chatting to a good mate, Herbie. We were commenting on how old some of our alumni looked. If you didn’t know their ages, you’d guess they were in their mid fifties. It was then that Herbie vocalised something that I was thinking. All of the guys who looked like old men at 38 also looked like old men at 18.
A second story. We have always been close to one of our nieces. As a teen, she frequently came to stay with us. She is athletically gifted, but not academically. That’s okay. (Frankly, the world would be dysfunctional if everyone were Mensa-bright.) But here’s something I have noticed when we chat about things. If she doesn’t understand something, she never asks for an explanation. No “What does that mean?” or “How does that work?”
So what’s the link?
The old-before-their-time schoolmates are all bright. Most of them became scientists. Today they wear grey cardigans and corduroy pants. They carry pens in their shirt pockets. But then, that’s how they dressed at 18.
They clearly had enough of an interest in learning stuff to go to uni. However, chat to them (then or now) and it’s clear that their interest in learning has a very narrow focus. They might know an awful lot about molecular structure. Their curiosity about it might have led them to a life of specialised study. They might be able to converse on that subject for hours. But they struggle with anything else. They simply failed to wonder about anything other than molecular structure.
Our niece has the capacity to know far more than she does. However, she lacks curiosity. If she doesn’t know something, she doesn’t seek to know it. In this she’s not alone. There are many her age with this general lack of interest in the ways of the world.
So we have some really bright people and some others of average intelligence equally disinterested in learning beyond their limited interests or immediate environment.
They are living, but if you measure a life by an incessant passion for exploring, you’d say they’re not alive.
Albert Einstein said a lot of memorable things in his life. He once said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning”.
He is also credited with saying “Once you stop learning, you start dying”.
I don’t blame my niece for not being interested in understanding. I don’t blame my school alumni for a lack of interest outside their narrow professional fields.
We have education systems, societal values, family traditions and office policies that favour the average, punish dissenters and ostracise the black sheep.
I had a great time at school. I learnt a lot. However, my education started when I my formal schooling finished. That’s when I really started to explore what’s possible. I have made mistakes. Many of them. I have learnt from each. I have tried not to repeat any of them.
Our parents, our schools, our universities aren’t responsible for our education. We are.
To keep curious, to go on adding to our knowledge, takes a lot of effort. We’re creatures of habit. We slip into familiar, comfortable and non-challenging routines. We settle for the knowledge we have.
I don’t want to live for a hundred years. I want to be alive for a hundred years. I want new experiences. I want to learn new facts. I want new sounds, tastes and aromas in my life.
How about you?