From Proud to Humble to Curious
Or: Another Person Trying to Get You to Read More Books
In romantic fashion, I’ve chosen “The Pleasure of Finding Things Out” as my final book of the year and the book to conclude my road to 100. It has been quite the journey, so now I’d like to reflect on it.
One of my favorite quotes is Einstein’s ‘temple of science.’ In this temple, he describes 3 people that I’ve deduced to the proud, the humble, and the curious. At times, I’m the proud, I hope to be humbled, but staying curious is my priority. (Stop trying to be humble. That’s not how it works. Humble people don’t try to be humble. It’s not even a matter of focus. Anyways, this has nothing to do with this post. Carry on.)
I think the type of people found in the temple of science are understood best through a progression rather than confined to an absolute, at least in my case this is what I have concluded.
I began proud. The first thirty books I consumed at a rapid speed. I could converse about anything to some degree, and I always had something to add to conversations. I knew just enough about everything. The recognition from others as the guy who’s well-read was a nice touch as well. Consider my ego bolstered.
Then existential despair struck me around book #35. I realized I knew nothing. It was humbling but more so, troubling. I wasn’t okay with this reality. I found it harder and harder to consume the books I had set out to read. It seemed pointless. Meaningless. For nothing. If I couldn’t know everything, why bother trying? Yet, I continued towards my goal.
The true humbling took place towards the end of this season as I began to realize that it wasn’t about what I knew or could know but wanting to know. What could I learn? This was the great discovery that ignited my new passion for reading. It placed me back on the path of righteousness. It wasn’t about knowing everything and being admired by all or submitting my knowledge for the betterment of humanity however noble that may be. It was about being curious for curiosity’s sake.
It likens similarly to the enlightening religious experience one has on the way to true faith. First, one may transverse through pharisaic pride boasting, “look what I do for God!” Further on their journey, they arrive at timid humility, announcing in anguish, “What could I do for God?”
But after passing through these dispositions, here one arrives at gleeful curiosity to the place where the Divine was leading all along. “My God! There is a God!” Captivated by the unfathomable Maker of all. The place of pure wonder.
So it is so with books. Not quite the same as contemplating the Almighty, for what can compare? But close enough.
Through writing this, I’ve struggled to not write about how I’ve changed because of reading such a great number of books. Because I have changed, my life is different, better even, more fulfilling, but to talk about that wasn’t my focus or goal of writing this. I believe curiosity and wonder and the joy of discovering truth simply because it is truth is the foundation for which one should set out to learn. Not for self-gain, status, success, or approval. Not to impress friends, disparage foes, or win petty arguments. Not even to solve the world’s problems, though it is a plus when that happens.
But my life is different. And I’d only be telling half of the story if I only wrote about the joys of a curious life. The truth I’ve encountered by reading books of an array of topics and perspectives have shone light into the darkness within me. Much of that darkness was simply my own ignorance. Now, I don’t see things the same. Having read 100 books, you would think I would have the answer to more questions, but I’ve found I can answer less. Most questions I’m asked, if I’m answering honestly, simply bring me to say, “I don’t know.”
This is for the good.
I’ve heard it said, “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.” It’s a rather harsh saying and I know better than to point a finger and call another an ignorant pig or a fool. But I’ve found this to be true. Finger pointed at myself.
As I read more, I realize I know less. Or I become more aware of problems in the world. That’s a hard burden to bear. A voluntary burden, too. Why not just stay naive? Is curiosity worth it if it leads to a greater consciousness of pain and suffering? I continue to grow dissatisfied with my conclusions. This draws me to go deeper. Deeper into hell, even, maybe, so I can reach up to heaven. That’s what Carl Jung said. To quote him, “No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.” Is it worth it if such knowledge becomes seemingly unbearable?
It has to be. Didn’t He say the truth will set you free?
This is the story of humankind. Adam and Eve ate of the fruit. Before that they were naive. So naive that they didn’t know they were naked. They were ignorant, but it was blissful ignorance. It was allowed then. There’s no need for consciousness when you’re in Eden.
Yet, they ate the fruit and took on the burden of consciousness. We ate the fruit and took on the burden of consciousness. The only way out is more consciousness. More truth. The truth sets us free!
This means more dissatisfaction.
But I’ve found that dissatisfaction and discontentment are not the same. I can be one dissatisfied and still grow in contentment. Dissatisfaction leads me to want to learn more, contentment leads me to love every second of the journey.
So, now I have to make things clear. It seems that I’ve argued two different reasons to read more:
I. Read for curiosity’s sake.
II. Read because the truth will set you free.
But it is the first, not the latter, that I’m sticking with in this instance. I wrote earlier that solving the world’s problems should not be the foundation of reason for setting out to learn. I am not against solving the world’s problems, however, I do not believe this to be the proper starting place.
It is curiosity. Why? Because you don’t know which problems you could solve if you set out to solve them. You don’t know what truth you could discover if you set out to find it. You may solve world issues along the way. Fantastic! You may be the first to discover a new truth of the world. Wonderful!
We don’t know what issues we could solve, but we can let our curiosity lead us to ponder these issues and maybe we’ll be able to solve them along the way. We don’t know what truths we could uncover, but curiosity will surely lead us to uncover beautiful new certainties.
But let curiosity lead because curiosity doesn’t end.
We do know there is truth waiting to be discovered. Endless possibility awaits. So here I ask, “Which path shall we wander today?”
Stay curious, friends.
It truly is a pleasure to find things out.