While some are intrinsically motivated to learn, others mainly do so for work flexibility, to have better opportunities. Yet, learning offers so much more. The habit of lifelong learning presents us with an opportunity to go deeper and discover the beauty of being human.
1. Education helps us understand the world around and the world within
To fulfil their existence on earth, other creatures can rely on natural adaptation or instinct, on just being there, on fight or flight. In the case of humanity, freedom is a key ingredient. And without education, freedom is never released. In positive terms, through lifelong learning, a person understands what is taking place in reality, finds words to express their deeper desires, identifies falsehood and manipulation, opens windows on reality, and fulfils his/her specific contribution in a meaningful way.
2. Education liberates us from what stops us from moving forward
Freedom is not running around aimlessly. Neither can it be reduced to choosing between different products as slaves to a consumer mentality. Aldoux Huxley’s dystopian novel Brave New World alerts us to the fact that people can become so distracted that they do not recognize the chains that bind them. Whether to adopt a lifelong learning mind-set or not, is to face a challenging choice: between distraction (in its various forms) and investment in mental resources to resist enslavement. The latter includes the effort to go beyond a culture of superficiality in order to lead a meaningful life. No wonder that Jesus, in Nazareth, the place where he spent thirty years growing in wisdom, in humanity, expressed his mission in terms of freedom: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, ...” (Luke 4,18)
3. Education self-transforms
The amount of information we have access to is enormous. At face value it seems that we have everything at our fingertips without needing the mediation of people who ‘control’ that knowledge. Moreover, there is information coming out all the time. As the term FOMO – “fear of missing out” – goes, people feel the urge to be updated all the time with the latest. We seek that reassuring feeling that we are in control because we have a lot of information. Yet the greatest challenge is how to filter the information available and how to find ways of making it meaningful. Education by experts in their field can give us not the information but the tools to filter it and make sense of it. And discipline in our search for knowledge helps us to overcome the anxiety of missing out. It enables us to read what is essential, eliminate what is false, and above all pause and distill: how can this information transform my perspective on life, transform my life? “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet lose their own soul?” (Mark 8, 36)
4. Education opens a path from observation to recreation
A complementary but essential aspect of education is liberation from fear. We can easily spend our life either numb or fearful. In the first we are drugged through existence (not only by drugs or alcohol, but above all by constant entertainment). In the second, we remain on the level of fight as an alternative to flight. We seek to control reality. To bend it according to our shape. We can become closed, violent and arrogant. And we end up frustrated. As much as we proclaim “freedom of choice” we realise that we cannot control most of the things and events of life.
But there is another way. It corresponds to our deeper dignity. Life starts with contemplation not with control. Contemplation teaches us to observe, be aware, appreciate, express gratitude, receive, learn. It is being present to love. Alongside freedom, there is love. And in response to the love received, we learn to respond, love, re-create. As Antonio Gaudì, the famous architect of La Sagrada Familia, put it: “Originality consists in returning to the origin”; and “Those who look for the Laws of Nature as a support for their new works, collaborate with the Creator”. This teaches us a new way of being in the world: “At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” (Luke 10,21)
We can go deeper, and stretch our mental abilities to resist distraction and enslavement. Ask yourself, how is what I am reading, surfing, watching, consuming, transforming me as a person? Where am I invited to sit still, be aware, receive, contemplate, become HUMAN?
Fr Jimmy Bonnici
Published: September 2018