MICROPHONE, telephone receiver, motion pictures, office copiers, incandescent electric light – all these and over 1000 other inventions could be attributed to the genius of one man Thomas Edison. In 1845, when Edison was seven, his mother, Nancy Edison withdrew him from school after his teacher made some uncomplimentary remarks about him. She withdrew her son from the school where he had been for only three months and resolved to educate him at home. Like Lincoln, Edison was a ravenous reader. By age 12, he had devoured Shakespeare and Dickens. He also read Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire as well as David Hume’s History of England, and more.
The twists and turns of life transformed young Edison in 1862 when an unfortunate (maybe fortunate) train accident harmed his ears. This led to an impairment of the 15-year old’s hearing. It was at this point of his life that he dramatically stepped up his self–education. He realized that to mitigate the effect of his handicap, he had to learn everything he needed to know on his own. Later in life he reflected, “Deafness probably drove me to reading.” He systematically read through all the shelves of Detroit Free Library. Edison did not succumb to the limitations of his handicap. Instead, it served as a springboard for his leap through life. Edison shows us that no matter the circumstance of our lives, education is a choice we must make; it is a mindset we must develop and a discipline we must cultivate consciously. How can you also walk the path of Thomas Edison?
- Make a conscious decision. You have to decide to learn. Your resolve will impel you to take the necessary steps to knowledge. Laissez-Faire Books Editor Jim Powell recounts what one associate of Edison said, “He spent his money buying apparatus and books, and wouldn’t buy clothing. That winter he went without an overcoat and nearly froze.” Isn’t that ridiculous? Well, that was his decision. You too must decide. Will you read or sleep? Funeral or study? Which will you sacrifice – party or library? Learning is a deliberate course of action that has its opportunity costs.
- Be open-minded. All of us have prejudices. Mostly, prejudices or preconceived ideas are not substantial. They are formed on the basis of misinformation or false perceptions. On the flip side, if we are liberal about our beliefs, we would be able to learn correctly. The good thing about being open-minded is that learning can take place in a relaxed manner and sometimes in an unconscious manner.
- Be conscious and honest about what you don’t know. American social commentator and humorist Will Rogers thought that, “Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects.” I definitely concur. There is no person who can claim to know everything. Ignorance is not wrong, although it can be costly. What we have to do is to adopt the posture of Marcus Cicero: “I am not ashamed to confess that I am ignorant of what I do not know.” Honesty about our ignorance will position us to be knowledgeable. “To be conscious that you are ignorant of the facts is a great step to knowledge,” says Benjamin Disraeli, former Prime Minister of Britain.
- Be eager to cure your ignorance. While I emphasize that we cannot know everything, we should not use that as a pretext to stop learning. Life is dynamic. New things emerge every day and we have to consciously take steps to keep abreast of What you don’t know can cost you your job, your friends or even your life. Don’t settle for ignorance.
YEAH! YOU KNOW, SO….?
TO have knowledge and not use it is not different from being ignorant. In the next chapter, we would discuss some of the ways by which we can benefit from our knowledge. We shall also look at how others can benefit from what we know. 19th century journalist Margaret Fuller hit the nail right on the head when she said, “If you have knowledge, let others light their candles by it.”