“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” – Mark Twain
We are living in the Information Age. Technologies abound giving us more information than we can process. Flipping through cable news stations we see talking heads in high definition, a news scroll at the bottom of the page, interactive stories with flashing graphics in the side bar on each side, links for websites and other features, along with immediate breaking news alerts every few minutes about world shattering events like a certain “celebrity” getting pulled over by the police on her way to a club a few minutes after leaving a rehab facility after she was released from prison for her probation violation with drugs and alcohol. We might not have made it through the day without that story! (And you probably know who I am talking about.)
Information is everywhere. If someone has a question, we can “Google it.” Fifteen years ago no one even knew what a google was, now it is a company that runs a search engine, and it is a verb. Dumb people with smart phones can be an instant expert on any subject. I’m surprised that we have not found a cure for cancer on the internet yet. Everything else is posted there. But regurgitating information does not mean that we know anything. It just means we can repeat what we hear. Just like a parrot.
We need to be reminded that information is not the same as education. Neither is schooling for that matter. We can get an education at home, at school, at work, or anywhere we are willing to invest the time and energy into learning. Information is just facts. Just because we go to school doesn’t mean we learn anything.
Face it, reading something on the internet doesn’t mean it is true. Otherwise I would already be a millionaire from the widow with cancer in Nigeria whose government official husband died and told her to send 30 million dollars to someone they found an email address for through a random internet search before she dies too. Come to think of it, that widow never emailed me back after I sent her my bank information.
Perhaps we need to rename this age. It is not so much the Information Age as it is the Information Overload Age. We are stressing ourselves out by trying to keep up with all the news. We are becoming more afraid as every day we hear on the news about some new disease (bird flu, pig flu, Obama flu) that is going to wipe up off the face of the earth. And we are becoming more angry as we seem to be losing our ability to change our circumstances. We are beginning to believe that we are victims of our circumstances instead of the old American conviction that used to instill in us as a people that we can succeed no matter the odds. We will find a way.
We fall into error when we believe that because we know a fact we possess the truth. Knowing facts is not the same thing as being educated. A true education reveals itself in our ability to take facts and apply them to make a difference in who we are and what we do.
I don’t mean to knock school or the ability to recall facts. These things are useful when we are diligent to apply ourselves. But a real education can be had anywhere we are, no matter how long ago we were in school. And real education involves common sense – learning not just what, but why, and how, and when. Common sense is uncommon today. As the adage goes, a person may be smart but people are stupid. Without common sense we may all know the answer to a question but at the same time all fail to be able to apply it in a meaningful way.
Some would say that common sense is second nature and we have it or we don’t. But if that is true, then we really have no hope and should just pack up and wait for the flu pandemic, asteroid, or government to kill us all.
Common sense can be learned. It starts with imitation, not information. Sometimes we forget how simple it can be to learn new things. And the quickest way to learn is to imitate our teachers.
Often we expect others to learn by reading, or watching a training video, or attending a webinar. But the fastest way to learn anything is to do it. That is why so many trades have apprentices. When I say “the apprentice” today most people think of a TV show, but master craftsmen used to take on younger apprentices in order to teach them a trade. The apprentice was the gopher (go for this, get me that), the helper, the janitor, and whatever else he needed to be in order to help (and learn from) the master.
Imitation is not just a form of flattery. It is a good way to learn new things. Today, let’s look around us and see who has common sense, is calm in the midst of the storm, and deals well with stress. Then do what they do. We will learn quickly that if we do something over and over it becomes a habit. It changes the way we think and the way we approach problems. In fact, imitating good examples is perhaps the best education. Now that is some useful information.