Permission to Learn New Things
“One day, I met with a researcher in a coffee shop. Language was a problem but he spoke more English than I did Japanese. I had just been to the bookstore and was lugging a stack of books on highly advanced computer-science topics. It was all Greek to me but I figured something might rub off. Suddenly the guy asks me “Who gives you permission to read those books?”
I was stunned. Bowled over. Did his puzzlement reflect some sort of cultural difference? I didn’t think so. It struck me that this fellow was just being more honest and direct than an American might be. He was articulating what many people in today’s world seem to assume: that official authorization is required to learn new things. I thought about this deeply and I’m thinking about it still.
Who gives us permission to explore our world? The question implies that the world in fact belongs to someone else. Who gives us permission to communicate what we’ve experienced, what we believe, what we’ve discovered of that for ourselves? Right then and there, in that chance encounter in some random Tokyo coffee shop, I gave myself blanket permission: to be curious, to learn, to speak, to write.” The Cluetrain Manifesto, Christopher Locke
It is so true that most people think this way.
When I started to make a commitment two years ago to reading and learning for my own personal gain outside the classroom, I quickly discovered that it’s usually a waste of time to share this with others. When most people are told this, it is a completely foreign concept, and others tend to think I have this weird unnatural desire to learn things for the sake of learning. They completely don’t understand why anyone would spend time outside of class studying and learning. Of course, I don’t understand how anyone couldn’t understand this. Of all the great things about this site and Rudius Media, probably my favorite aspect is the fact that it promotes a culture of self-education and learning for learning’s sake, traits that are sorely missing in the rest of the world.
That’s hilarious. It really does make people uncomfortable when you read a lot around them. They feel like you’re getting ahead of them in some way, and feel guilty that they’re not doing the same. Their laziness-induced guilt then turns to anger against you.
Just today I was jotting some stuff down in a notebook as I was reading, since it was a library book and I usually mark up whatever I read. I’m on vacation with extended family, and I heard an off-hand comment like “Tom doesn’t have homework in the summer so he makes his own.” Jotting down some notes or highlighting does not mean it’s fucking homework. I do this because I enjoy it. Some people just don’t understand.
While I was reading Homer’s Illiad in between classes at my college’s library, someone asked me, “What literature class is that for?” I responded, “I am just reading it for myself.” He said, “Why would you do that?”
I guess it is true that stupidity is considered a virtue in this society…
Maybe I’m just too far away from normal, but I’ve never seen anything in our culture, even subconciously, that implies we need permission to learn.
What we do need is empowerment to learn – drive, desire, fear… something. If you are doing more than is expected of you people will assume its for one of those reasons and they will probably be right.
The Japanese man may not have been asking “who let you learn,” but “who enabled you to learn all that” or “what are you gathering all that power for?”