The Second You Think You're Done Learning, You're Done Being Useful

Walter Rhein by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

Nothing is worse than when educated people allow themselves to become champions of ignorance. Ignorance is a cancer. It combines with pride and insecurity to create hatred. When a person has not had the advantage of an education, you can almost forgive them their ignorance. You can interact with uneducated people in the hope that they will perceive the error of their ways. But when an educated person descends into ignorance, often your only choice is to cut ties with them completely.

Educated people are individuals with talent, discipline, and drive. The problem is that when educated people begin to acquire accolades in their field, their ego starts to grow and pride clouds their vision. Arrogance and ignorance are equally fatal to reason. When arrogance settles in, ignorant comments will soon follow.

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt. — Abraham Lincoln

The platform of the educated

The biggest problem with educated people is that they become accustomed to speaking from a platform. They’re knowledgeable, and often they share opinions that are insightful and valuable. However, when their arrogance takes hold and they begin to offer opinions on things outside their wheelhouse, they are as prone to stumbling as anyone else.

When an educated person makes an ignorant statement, it is often in public and you have no choice but to challenge them publicly in return. When you do so, educated people take it as a personal attack. Most of the time they dig their heels in and double down on their position. The cycle can then descend into something terrible.

We must never stop learning

I’ve had several friends who have earned PhDs. These people have worked hard within their chosen field, and their mental agility always makes for delightful and sometimes challenging conversation. However, on a couple of occasions, I’ve found the very intellect and competence that made these individuals great academics also contributes to their downfall. They have achieved in their field, but it is only one field after all.

Some people are driven to learn, but at the same time as they are driven, they become exhausted by the process. It’s not unnatural for a person at some point in their life to stop, stand up and say, “enough is enough.” We are all mere mortals after all, the weight of the world crushes us over the years.

The expert on all things

I can see how people who have dedicated their lives to educating themselves might finally arrive at the conclusion that they have learned “enough.” That they are now “experts” and that people who have not achieved their level need to bow down to their opinions.

I’m sorry, but that opinion is nonsensical.

Just because you’ve earned a doctorate in one field doesn’t make you an expert on all things. You’re an expert in your field. You probably have well-considered positions on other topics. But if you can’t win an argument through a nuanced understanding of your opponent’s position, and instead rely on academic superiority, you’ve descended into arrogance.

“You aren’t at my level, so you can’t understand…”

The current political environment in the United States has made all discourse extremely hostile. It’s sad to see how much ignorance has taken root to influence and spoil our country. But when educated people perpetuate this ignorance, it’s an even greater betrayal.

On two occasions recently, I’ve had long time friends with whom I’ve shared regular interactions, denounce research based positions against their opinions without even taking the time to examine the evidence.

Instead, when they’re beat, they start to bully you. They begin to claim that you don’t understand even though they are the ones failing to adhere to the process of courteous, elevated discourse.

You never know so much that you can’t be made into a fool

There is nothing sadder than when an educated person turns around and makes an ass of himself or herself. Many of them are oblivious to how they sound.

Our world is changing. We’re are becoming a more enlightened society that has a greater perception of the injustice of racism, that understands the value of progressive ideals, that aspires to a better life for all human beings.

Educated people that speak against these concepts betray the noble contribution of all the great scholars that have acquired and handed down knowledge throughout the centuries.

If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants. — Isaac Newton

We will all have the knowledge of children in the brave new world

The one constant is change. It is futile to resist it. When you dig your heels in against change, you might as well try to hold back the tide. Are you afraid that your status might suffer, that your legacy might suffer?

None of us are more than grains of sand upon an infinite beach. Get over yourself. No matter how much you study and how much you come to learn, there will always be moments where the littlest child can perceive some truth that is invisible to you.

Be humble.

You can learn from anyone, and the second you stop learning, you are doomed to self-destruction.

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Walter Rhein is an author with Perseid Press. He also does a weekly column for The Writing Cooperative on Medium.

Chippewa Falls, WI

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