Dear Ivy: Learn

My Dear Ivy,

As I’m writing this, you’re a year and a half old. That means those of us who love you are still learning how you communicate, what your preferences are, and what your personality looks like.

There’s a lot we don’t yet know about you.

But one thing I do know is how much you already love learning.

This love of learning is something you share with your brother and sister, and there are many times I enjoy just sitting back and watching you interact with them: observing, absorbing, mimicking, and generally taking in everything. You don’t miss much.

I hope this is something you never lose. Your brother and sister seem to be hanging onto theirs at ages 9 and 6, respectively, so I have a lot of hope that you will, as well.

More significantly, my hope is that I don’t manage to kill it for you. I know there are times when your brother and sister – and, already, you as well – want to show me something new and exciting, and I’m simply unable to muster up the energy to be as enthusiastic about it as you are. I’m sorry for the times I have done – and will do – something to unintentionally discourage you in your pursuit and love of learning.

And for that, I’m profoundly sorry. As with many of the things in these letters, I hope that my own missteps and mistakes won’t discourage you from your intended path.

This gets back to what we talked about earlier with regard to unlocking universes. If you take my advice from my earlier letter, and assume that everyone you meet has something they can teach you, then you’ll never stop learning. You’ll never stop expanding your field of vision, seeing things from a new perspective or discovering something you didn’t know before. I can tell you that as young as they are, I’ve learned a lot from your brother and sister, and I’m sure that I will from you, too. I hope you’ll learn from your mom and me as well, but I dearly, truly hope that you won’t just learn from us. We like to think that we have a lot of stuff we can share with you, but even that is just a small sliver of what’s out there for you to discover.

Love learning, and seek it wherever you can. I can tell you from personal experience that I’ve learned some profound things from people with whom I had almost nothing in common. I’ve found nuggets of wisdom in people with whom I disagreed about almost everything else. I’ve obtained valuable insights from people I’m convinced had almost nothing else of value to share.

Learning can sometimes be found in the strangest places – if you’re always on the lookout for it.

There’s another side to this, though. To be open to learning all you can, it’s important to know what you don’t know.

Over two thousand years ago, the philosopher Plato wrote of another philosopher, “I am better off than he is – for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows. I neither know nor think that I know.” Plato’s point isn’t that he’s smart and the other guy isn’t. His point is that it is very, very important to be aware of the limitations of your own learning. You will meet many, many people in your life who *think* that they know something. But as former President Ronald Reagan said of his political adversaries, the problem isn’t that they’re ignorant, it’s “that they know so much that isn’t so.”

You can’t be open to learning new things if you think you already know everything there is to know about a given subject. I can promise you, whatever the subject – even if you become the world expert on that subject – there is always more to learn.

One more thing: If you’re constantly on the search for learning, one of the things you will learn – probably sooner rather than later – is how very much there is out there that isn’t worth learning.

I’ve alluded to a bit of this in talking about things that I, myself, have had to “unlearn,” but you need to know, as you keep exploring the world around you, that there are lots and lots of people out there who are wrong, about lots and lots of things.

Again, that’s not to say those people have nothing to teach you – like I said earlier, I’ve learned some amazing things from people whom I’m convinced were wrong about nearly everything else. Frankly, it’s possible that the best lesson you can learn from some people is “don’t be like that.”

But discernment is important. Thinking through things critically is important. I want you to cultivate skepticism . . . I want you to take each new idea you encounter as something that is potentially of value, but as something that needs to prove its value to you. Don’t believe what is told to you, simply because you like the idea of it being true. Don’t believe what is told to you, simply because you like the person telling you.

Yes, even if that person is me.

I will share with you the best of the ideas I have – throughout these letters, and throughout the rest of my life. But I’ll have some bad ones, too. And so will others you meet.

And frankly, so will you. As the saying goes, “don’t believe everything you think.”

Learn what you can, wherever you can. Know what you don’t know. And approach new ideas – and old ones, for that matter – with a healthy dose of skepticism.

If you make these suggestions into habits, you’ll be in good shape for a lifetime of learning.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!


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