by Maria Popova
“Writing, to knowledge, is a certified check.”
The quest for intellectual growth and self-improvement through education has occupied yesteryear’s luminaries like Bertrand Russelland modern-day thinkers like Sir Ken Robinsonand Noam Chomsky. In 1936, at the zenith of the Great Depression, the prolific self-help guru and famous eccentric James T. Manganpublished You Can Do Anything! (public library) — an enthusiastic and exclamation-heavy pep-manual for the art of living. Though Mangan was a positively kooky character — in 1948, he publicly claimed to own outer space and went on to found the micronation of Celestia — the book isn’t without merit.
Among its highlights is a section titled 14 Ways to Acquire Knowledge — a blueprint to intellectual growth, advocating for such previously discussed essentials as the importance of taking example from those who have succeededand organizing the information we encounter, the power of curiosity, theosmosis between learning and teaching, the importance of critical thinking(because, as Christopher Hitchens pithily put it, “what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence”), the benefits of writing things down, why you should let your opinions be fluid rather than rigid, the art of listening,the art of observation, and the very core of what it means to be human.
14 WAYS TO ACQUIRE KNOWLEDGE
Consider the knowledge you already have — the things you really know you can do. They are the things you have done over and over; practiced them so often that they became second nature. Every normal person knows how to walk and talk. But he could never have acquired this knowledge without practice. For the young child can’t do the things that are easy to older people without first doing them over and over and over.
Most of us quit on the first or second attempt. But the man who is really going to be educated, who intends toknow, is going to stay with it until it is done. Practice!
Any normal child, at about the age of three or four, reaches the asking period, the time when that quickly developing brain is most eager for knowledge. “When?” “Where?” “How?” “What?” and “Why?” begs the child — but all too often the reply is “Keep still!” “Leave me alone!” “Don’t be a pest!”
Those first bitter refusals to our honest questions of childhood all too often squelch our “Asking faculty.” We grow up to be men and women, still eager for knowledge, but afraid and ashamed to ask in order to get it.
Every person possessing knowledge is more than willing to communicate what he knows to any serious, sincere person who asks. The question never makes the asker seem foolish or childish — rather, to ask is to command the respect of the other person who in the act of helping you is drawn closer to you, likes you better and will go out of his way on any future occasion to share his knowledge with you.
Ask! When you ask, you have to be humble. You have to admit you don’t know! But what’s so terrible about that? Everybody knows that no man knows everything, and to ask is merely to let the other know that you are honest about things pertaining to knowledge.
You never learn much until you really want to learn. A million people have said: “Gee, I wish I were musical!” “If I only could do that!” or “How I wish I had a good education!” But they were only talking words — they didn’t mean it.
Desire is the foundation of all learning and you can only climb up the ladder of knowledge by desiring to learn.
If you don’t desire to learn you’re either a num-skull [sic] or a “know-it-all.” And the world wants nothing to do with either type of individual.
- GET IT FROM YOURSELF
You may be surprised to hear that you already know a great deal! It’s all inside you — it’s all there — you couldn’t live as long as you have and not be full of knowledge.