Is it really possible to teach lessons about knowledge being for its own sake and learning being its own reward? How, in our hyper-utilitarian age of credentials, competition, and consumerism can such things be instilled and affirmed?
Here is a story from when I studied in Poland.
It so happened that I would be absent on the date of a scheduled exam in “Main Problems in Philosophy” due to a conference and so I arranged to write my exam in the professor’s office in advance.
I showed up to his office at 1 o’clock and he handed me a piece of paper with two questions that he had written out for me:
Simone Weil, who died on this date in 1943 at the age of 34, was one of the most audaciously creative writers and earnest spiritual seekers of the past century.
In her aphoristically-styled Gravity and Grace, she has these words about suffering and affliction:
Suffering: superiority of man over God. The Incarnation was necessary so that this superiority should not be scandalous.
I should not love my suffering because it is useful. I should love it because it is.
Suffering, teaching and transformation. What is necessary is not that the initiated should learn something, but that a transformation should come about in them which makes them capable of receiving the teaching.
Pathos means at the same time suffering (notably suffering unto death) and modification notably transformation into an immortal being).
I still remember my utter perplexity at a so-called professor of Genocide Studies at a Canadian university having accused me of “voyeurism” for having travelled to Germany, Poland, and Rwanda on genocide study trips.
Now, I can see that such a bizarre accusation might stem from failing to see the way in which studying genocide properly can actually constitute an education in moral sense. By learning about perpetrators and meeting with rescuers and survivors, my friends and I with whom I studied and travelled encountered the moral drama of human action and responsibility in persons and deeds, not in mere systems or abstractions.
Today is the anniversary of the death of Terry Fox on June 28th, 1981.
One of the most memorable aspects of my early education was learning the story of Terry Fox and participating in the Annual Terry Fox Run in order to raise money and awareness for cancer research.
We would sit on the gym floor in an elementary school-wide assembly and watch either a short film or a longer documentary about the young man who had cancer and attempted to run across Canada from coast to coast on his prosthetic leg.
In the chapter on Hope in Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis discusses the paradox that “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.”
I certainly observed this during my studies and travels throughout Europe during which I was continually struck that the most beautiful art and architecture was made by people who believed in the immortality of the soul whereas materialists always seemed to produce the most ugly and bland structures and stuff.
There is something about looking forward longingly to the world to come that makes us more effective in this world than we could possibly be otherwise.
In the highly interactive and exceptionally curated Museum of World Religions in Taipei, there is a permanent exhibit called Awakenings. As described by the museum, “This specially commissioned film includes interviews with world-renowned religious leaders, well-known laity, and other visitors. They bear witness to personal experiences that led to important changes in their lives. The aim of the film is to generate a resonance in visitors, irrespective of their time of life, and encourage them to actively seek changes at all opportunities.”
In the clip below, which I took during my visit, Cardinal Francis Arinze reflects on the formative persons in his life, mainly priests and teachers. One thing that struck me about this brief interview is how much affection he has for his teachers and how, even about teachers who have died he says, “the link remained because they made a change in my life, these people.
When persons instill something of there character, when they teach in such a way that, as Cardinal Arinze says, “you [cannot] be indifferent to [them]”, then these people do not disappear when they die, but rather remain in their students in whom they have made such an impression.
Many of the things I learned during that workshop and, more recently, through Nas Academy courses continue to inform the work that I’m doing now. In fact, I often find that my education through seminars, conferences, and programs is at least as beneficial to my professional life as my traditional education.
And, even when a seminar is only a couple days, often the connections I make last much longer.
This is certainly true of the Freedom on the Big Screen seminar at which I met T.K. Coleman. T.K. is one of my favourite people to follow on Facebook. I am continually uplifted and inspired by his content.
Recently, he posted this on his page:
When the whole world seems to be losing its mind, that’s the BEST time to dial in on your mission.
The world needs people who can be composed, creative, and consistent in season and out of season.
The world is losing its mind, and I am deciding to blog every single day about death in a way that is consistently humanizing and uplifting. It won’t always be perfect, but part of the mission is the perseverance that comes through dying to perfectionism.
This evening over dinner, my friend and housemate shared a news story from a month ago about a university student in Montreal who was surprised to discover that his current art history professor had, in fact, already been deceased for two years.
Aaron Ansuini had been following an online course through Concordia University when he Googled the professor to find his email address but instead found his obituary.
The university says the prerecorded material was in no way meant to be deceptive. Nevertheless, the student’s Twitter thread recounting his surprise amassed hundreds of thousands of likes and retweets.