No, you haven’t read everything there is to read about ________ – Life-long learning requires a humble approach, and long-term commitment, to your learning

A few decades back, I was taking a post-graduate Theology class, with a  remarkable professor.  (My age is showing; I do not remember his name.  It was the only class I ever took from him).

He was an accomplished academician; an oft-published scholar.  He was American, but did a chunk of his graduate work in Germany.

One day in class, a fellow student said “I’ve read everything that has been written on _________.”  (Sorry; I forget the specific subject).

My professor pretty much lost it.  He said, firmly, with quite a tone of correction: “so, you’ve read every book on this; and every journal article; AND every book and article in French, and in German, and in….”  He said that it was so ignorant, and so arrogant, to claim to have read everything on any subject.

I’ve never forgotten that moment.

Today, while I was listening to the BBC Newshour on KERA Radio, I heard a conversation about “vaccine wars” in Europe.  I’ve read a lot about the vaccines available, and the rollout, here in the U.S., and yet, after listening, I was reminded yet again that I have more ignorance than knowledge about the vaccine issues.

We don’t know enough.
We need to know more.
There will always be the next new thing to learn.

In my little corner of the world, as a reader of business books who presents synopses of many very good books, people will ask me “what is the best book you’ve ever read?”  And, “what is the best business book you’ve ever read?”

I always answer the same way:  there is no one best book.  After mentioning Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, and The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, I say that it depends on the category.  For example: The best book on leadership?  Impossible!  I’ve read too many; many very good books.  There is no one book that will teach anyone enough about leadership.

And, then, I try to remind myself and the questioner that I haven’t read all of the books on leadership.  There are far more such books that I haven’t read than there are such books that I have read.

I go back to my memory of that moment with my professor.  There are so, so many books and articles and studies that I haven’t read that they vastly outnumber the ones that I have read.

So, my suggestion:  aim at life-long learning. But beware of any hint of arrogance; you’ll never read it all; you’ll never learn it all. You’ll never know it all.  There is always the next new thing to learn; there is even the next old thing left to learn that you somehow missed in your earlier learning moments.

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