Keep Learning

By Scott Westerman
“Live as if your were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” – Gandhi

Running through the streets of Oxford in the pre-dawn Great Britain darkness, one can feel the presence of intellects past and present who came to this place with one common objective: To keep learning.

I am here with 40 other seekers who travel on their own dime from every corner of The Colonies to become educated. The Michigan State University Alumni Association‘s Evening College “Odyssey to Oxford” is our most popular trip. It always sells out.

I am fascinated by the participants. Their average age is well beyond 60 years. Yet their minds are as inquiring and supple as the most motivated MSU freshman. This experience is not inexpensive. It attracts those who tend to have achieved much in their chosen fields, people who already know a lot about many things.

Why do people who have already seen much more of the world than the rest of us, who have acquired advanced degrees across multiple disciplines, who have succeeded well beyond what is common still return to the well of education?

Carl Rogers believes that, “The only kind of learning which significantly influences behavior is self-discovered or self-appropriated learning – truth that has been assimilated in experience,” knowledge that we purposely pursue.

That’s what these people do, an ongoing exercise that has directly contributed to every accomplishment, ignite fresh insights, and fundamentally influenced the quality of their lives.

The best educational environments are places that create a magical symbiosis between teacher and student. Galileo says, “You cannot teach a man anything. You can only help him discover it within himself.”

Einstein echoes this. “I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”

This is what MSUAA’s Odyssey to Oxford is all about. It’s a microcosm of the magic that begins anew every August in East Lansing, when our students return to MSU to keep learning.

Education is a partnership between student and teacher. But the inquisitiveness that is it’s basis is a universe that we create within. When we do, it’s rewards can be incalculable.  As I wrote in the preface to  he Spartan Life; A Spartan never stops learning. We believe that knowledge is more than just power. It is the invisible fuel that nourishes our psyche, can solve any problem and leads to peace and understanding.

What happens when you inculcate an ongoing education into your being? You literally live the magical Japanese success formula, Kaizen, loosely translated as “continuous improvement”.

And continuously improve, we must. The world does not stand still. New insights appear daily that change the fundamentals of how we create the series of successful days that end up being called a career. To put it in terms of the earliest cave inhabitants, for whom hungry sabre tooth tigers were teachers: We learn, incorporate our learning into our behaviors, or we die.

History records and re-records these simple facts of life:

Those with a deeper education enjoy richer lives, alleviate suffering and radiate joy.
Those without education suffer and cause suffering.
Crime, violence, destitution and hate can all be traced directly back to ignorance.
And yet, one educated person can help the un-educated walk from darkness into light.

For these and a thousand other reasons, keep learning.

Incorporate Kaizen into every fiber of your being. Have a healthy distrust for convention and cultivate an open mind. Like Einstein, seek to create an environment in which both you and those around you can learn. Take as many people on your journey as you can. Have compassion for all, but select your teachers with care. The right fellow travelers can help you radiate acquired knowledge well beyond your small circle of influence.

You don’t have to go to Oxford to be a scholar. But drinking from the cup of knowledge will ultimately attract you to places like this. Like everything in life, a continuing education is a series of daily habits that are the building blocks of knowledge. As your edifice grows, you will see farther, accomplish more and inspire others do the same.

Do all these things and you will continually stand on the threshold of a lifetime of discovery, success and happiness.