“Education is not selfish”

This is a follow up from my ranting about Theory vs Experience . I am still asking myself the question of “Why am I in college?”

And I am still struggling with answering that.

Learning in school is so much fun for me, but when I hear my friends mentioning about the usefulness or lack thereof of their classes I cannot deny. They too are right. I may just be justifying to myself that what I am doing is good.

Now I can argue with you the value of learning calculus or the art even if we will never use them again to make a living. Part of me loves learning for its own sake; you can put me in lectures, doing problem sets or writing essays for the whole day. Even philosophy, the seemingly most impractical subject, does one good thing for me in addition to messing up with my brain. It gives me some ideas to practice in thinking, and boy, thinking hard is uncomfortable and exciting. It wouldn’t be too surprising if I really become a philosopher, thinking through worldly problems and conversing with fellow pipe-smoking philosophers.

But I have yet to reconcile within myself with the mantra that “Education is not selfish”. It’s such a privilege to be able to study just for fun in a good college, isn’t it? The other part of me yearns to show to the world that “Hey, what I am learning matters”. And that’s why I have to build things. I know that there is little point in arguing with people if my goal is to persuade: nobody cares if I am right. People care if I am useful for them. (some people just care because it is me, but those are exceptions that I put in my “to-treasure” list)

On a side note, while I know that it is impossible to change other people’s minds, I have a strange feeling that the rule does not quite apply to me. I change my mind so often, especially if you give me a good point. Maybe that is a side effect of being a student of philosophy. A common experience is that I read one text and thought “Omg, the author made so much sense!” and became so inspired that I started sharing with people about the point he made. Then the next day I read another text whose author completely disagreed with the first one while still making so much sense, and I was simply mind blown. How on earth am I supposed to write anything for or against anyone when I am totally sold by both, and how am I supposed to have my own view? It is a very humbling experience.

It is easy to dismiss philosophers as great hypocrites who simply talk about big and impersonal issues. I can talk about saving the world all the time and here I am not doing anything much. I see the point. I can say that I am now equipping myself with the thinking and doing skill so that I will be even more useful in the future for the world, but isn’t just my excuse for having fun learning random stuff here in school? This is perhaps the most honest line of the entire post: I may just be a petty guy trying to appear to be good to himself and others.

Dang, sometimes I wish I could just be innocent. But I’m like a huge stone rolling down the hill, already set in motion towards the direction of “figuring thing out” that it is almost impossible to stop this mode by myself. Question is the simplest and most effective way to direct one’s attention. It can mess up or enlighten our mind, however we choose to see the effect. As such, the ability to ask questions is both a boon and a bane, and I’d better use it wisely. It is okay to experiment on myself. I dig in myself pretty much, questioning even personally taboo topics. They are shit scary, like taking a cold shower in this freezing weather. But not everyone is ready for more difficult questions about his lives. People who are way wiser than me will probably tell me that I too am being overly confident, that I can deal with questions that can shatter my innocence. They are kind enough to not ask.

If someday I go really crazy you should just slap me in the face.

p/s: Thinking too much is no good, so I’m experimenting with no-thinking activities. They work pretty well and I’m reasonably sane.

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3 thoughts on ““Education is not selfish”

  1. I think the answer to “Is education selfish?” is the same as the one to “Is eating selfish?”. Both activities are subjectively essential, can be done just for fun, and at same time around the world lots of people do not have easy access to these.

    Of course both yes and no can be sold, but if u change “education” to “eating” in your argument, I think it is equivalent.

    For example, did you jump for joy when knowing that u got admitted to uni, knowing that thousands of others got rejected? Similarly, did you feel great when eating good food, knowing that millions of others do not get that chance?

    • I agree. The whole business of what is considered selfishness is a huge debate . My problem is with the nagging sense of not doing something immediately meaningful to other people. The purpose of writing this is to remind myself to not feel too entitled, but sometimes I do feel I need to be more assertive in just chasing after what I want.

  2. I think that education is not selfish when you use it as a tool to empower you to enact greater change. If nothing more, it is a key which opens doors to opportunities that you cannot open without education.

    It is only selfish if you use it as so. The lessons you learn and relationships you build at college can help you have a larger effect on the world. I believe that the greatest value we get from college is not the courses we take, but the people we meet, and experiences we have. It is up to you how you use the power of education – for selfish or selfless causes. In the words of Voltaire, “with great power comes great responsibility”

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