As someone who is known as “Dad” to four kids, I’ve learned over the years that every age is fun in its own way. There was something special, though, when each of them was about 3 or 4 years old, and we had a lot of little conversations that went something like this:
- That rooster has brown speckles. “Why?”
- The plate is hot. “Why?”
- It’s bedtime. “Why?”
Answering these questions provided moments of pride in those early, inquisitive years of discovery:
- I am an educator! (The genetics of poultry-feather pigmentation!)
- I am a protector! (There will be no blistered little fingers on my watch!)
- Other times, I affectionately reaffirmed the sometimes-compromised position as the boss with the simple, “Because I said so.”
Regardless, there is magic in these questions — the starting places for wonder. As I continue to watch my kids discover answers by exploring this fascinating, beautiful, complicated world, I’m reminded that this process of learning is not exclusive to the young.
Historically, we’ve looked at education as something to be acquired at a specific time, in a specific place: You go to school to get educated, you go to work to apply what you’ve learned.
But isn’t this just the beginning? Don’t we all want to live lives fueled by curiosity — to keep the spark lit and continue on a constant quest for knowledge?
This concept of “lifelong learning” has its own definition:
The ‘ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated’ pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons. . . . It not only enhances social inclusion, active citizenship, and personal development, but also self-sustainability, as well as competitiveness and employability.
This seems slightly textbook to me, as I view learning not only as something useful, but also as a beautiful and poetic endeavor. My perspective is that we should never stop learning, because life never stops teaching. When we stop and pay attention, there’s something to be learned, anywhere, everywhere, and always.
We can look up and witness the vast, jaw-dropping phenomenon of the northern lights, or crouch down to examine a tiny ecosystem in a patch of moss, understanding a little bit more about science.
I can sit on the edge of my seat watching a movie, riveted by a plot twist I did not see coming, or get goosebumps as my daughters tiptoe across the dance stage, knowing they — and I — have been transformed by art.
Knowing who we are and how we’re wired is an ongoing discovery in itself. The care and feeding of our body, mind, and spirit is a lifelong assignment that helps us better understand and work with others.
With this perspective, life’s curriculum is vast, the possibilities endless. Sometimes we’ll choose our lessons; other times, they’ll be assigned to us. Along the way, we’ll encounter teachers, mentors, and others who will inspire us.
We may have opportunities to approach new projects thinking like Leonardo da Vinci; to channel the courage of Harriet Tubman; to study Einstein’s theories; to understand the heart and kindness of Gandhi; and to compete like Michael Jordan.
And in turn, we can inspire others. Of course, we’ll encourage our kids to succeed academically, but also show them how things work, where to look, and when to question the status quo or what’s transpired. We can think more creatively, consider multiple perspectives, and expect great lessons from the unexpected.
Whether we simply absorb and enjoy what we learn or apply it in some way is up to us. Bettering ourselves and improving the lives of others and the world around us requires little more than asking a few whys? — and then appreciating the answers — along the way.