Get a Zeal to Learn

November 12, 2008

Leo Buscaglia, in his book “Loving Each Other” talks about the mealtime ritual as he grew up. All the kids would sit down at the table, grace was offered, and then his dad would ask the same question: “What is one thing you learned today?” It didn’t matter what it was: they may have learned that white cars don’t go faster than black ones or that frogs don’t taste good when licked or that differential calculus helps us get from one side of the room to the other. But if one of his kids said “Nothing”, he would receive the same punishment. Dad would give his child a long, baleful stare along with a groan and say, “Then you wasted this day.

He must have been related to my dad. Many weekends my dad would bring home an armload of books from the library to read. Many times they would all be read by the next weekend. Then he would do it all again. He was fascinated with a plethora of topics, but his favorites were history, geography, crime novels and famous sporting figures. I remember sitting in his study one Saturday afternoon watching him read. I know; you’re thinking that this explains so much about my geekness. But I liked to watch my dad when he didn’t know I was looking. His facial expressions said so much about what was happening in his heart.

At one point, he looked at me and a frown came over his face. “Mike” he started, “if you find someone who knows more than you do about something, pick their brains until you know what they know”. I don’t know if that had anything to do with what he was reading, but I have taken it to heart. I have become a voracious learner.

I did a mental survey a half hour ago of the things I have learned so far in the past month. Here is a partial list: How to redesign a web page with CSS; the various forms of conversion disorder; how to make a black and white photograph part black and white and part color; that they don’t fix cell phones any longer (and that I can if I try); that my wife likes certain colors of flowers and not others; that not watching the news gives me better perspective; that you can teach a dog to bow his head; that some centipedes are poisonous; that Rastafarians hate white people and won’t get on a bus if a white guy (me in fact) is there; that most educated people cannot run a business meeting in less than an hour; that malt vinegar tastes good on nachos; that I crave carbs when I stuff my anger; that political debates are not technically debates; that no one ever really wins in a political disagreement over moral values; that thunder sounds the same in different countries; that an atrium is not the same thing as an auricle…right Kathy?; that all Michiganders can tell you where they live on “The Hand”; that I have still not learned to trust God when keys are locked in a car that is running; to cock my wrists when hitting my driver; to stop dropping my right shoulder when I want to hit the golf ball harder; that my brother is a great dad and it shows in his great son; that my son is proud of jumping out of airplanes; that buildings over 300 years old may be stronger than the ones we are building today; that bats can be playful; that mosquito bites in different countries itch differently; that China owned the majority of shares in Freddie Mac and have more T-bills than any single individual in this world. There is so much more I learned, but I don’t want to scare you off. Keep reading.

Flying out to St. Croix last week I sat beside another guy named Mike. He asked me a question while we were still sitting at the gate. We exchanged business cards 3 1/2 hours later and in between we did not stop talking. I had found another man who liked to learn as much as I. We talked about history, politics, attitudes people have about homosexuals, marriage and divorce, theology and church history and our own struggles with all of the above. I have read many of the same books as he and we coaxed information out of each other with joy.

He loves to learn. My wife told me that people three rows ahead and behind listened intently to us. I’m thinking he and I need a radio show. We would call it the “I love to learn” program.

Here is what I like about learning. It stimulates the imagination and opens worlds that we have never seen. One person cannot discover all of life, but combining what others have learned with what you know makes a big difference in how you see the world.

For instance, take the movie “Finding Forrester”. Forrester, the title character, is a famous writer who has not published in years. He lives out his petty life in a dank, run-down apartment, probably suffering from agoraphobia. A kid who loves to learn and explore discovers him watching the kids on the playground playing basketball. He wheedles his way into Forrester’s life and then discovers who he is. Here is the difference between the two people. Forrester has stopped interacting and therefore his learning is only from his library of books. The kid is pushing into new horizons and surpasses the life that Forrester lives. But, because the boy touches Forrester, he writes his last book and then goes on a tour of the world. He realized that he had given up learning because he had given up life.

Too many people I know have given up life because they have stopped learning. What a waste!

So what can you do to start learning again? I don’t know if I have a magic formula, but here are some things that I like to do that helps me learn.

1. People Watch: When in public, watch people and listen to them. People can teach you more than books just by their actions and attitudes.

2. Cruise libraries and bookstores and get books that you normally would not read.

3. Ask people to explain what excites them the most. I remember talking to a plumber who could do multiple complex math problems in his head. He told me how to do it. I also was instructed on speed reading by a guy I met on a bus.

4. Fuel your Passion: If you really enjoy something, don’t just do it, learn how to teach others to do it. That way, you will learn even more about your passion.

5. Write about what you learn. Nothing underscores your wisdom like expression of thought. Or, if you don’t like to write, tell people about the fascinating things you learn.

6. Travel widely. You may not be able to afford to go to other countries, but you can go to ethnic festivals in town or get to know people from other countries who live down the street. No knowledge is as real as the one that comes from a different part of this planet.

7. Compare everything you know to other things you know. You may end up with a combination no one has ever thought of before.

8. Oh yeah…and turn off the T.V. unless it’s the Travel Channel or Learning Network.



  1. never lived on ‘the hand’, lived in the UP.

    in the interest of learning, i read Friedrich Nietzsche this week…where do I go from there?

  2. If you’ve been reading Nietzsche, then you can only go up from there.

  3. Fascinating! I’m going to start to employ the “What did I learn today?” method into my life. Thanks for the tip! 🙂

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