“The central task of education is to implant a will and a facility for learning; it should produce not learned but learning people. The truly human society is a learning society, where grandparents, parents, and children are students together.
In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” — Eric Hoffer, Reflections on the Human Condition, 1973
Ah yes, variations on the first rule of evolution – we adapt or we die. And our educational system needs to prepare us for the need to adapt to change.
Eric Hoffer, who passed away at 80 in 1983, was the source of many, beautifully simple, quotes. He was a philosopher, and a working man, who wrote what he intuited based on the world he lived in. His most famous work, “True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements” (1951), was an attempt to address the whys & hows of totalitarian governments, particularly Hitler and Stalin. I think he was onto something when laying out his argument for the psychology of how they take root and grow. Part of that mass psychology, in his view, is that people who are disaffected and feel threatened by their world, are those that more readily accept the hand of the dictator, because they like the promise of ‘better’ times, the promise of future more like the one they’d envisioned. The more threatened they feel by the status quo, the more likely they are to embrace a radical change. Unfortunately, I fear that we are witnessing that type of disaffection among some segments of the populace now.
This particular quote was a more complete version of one that I’d kept pinned on my wall at work. It served as reminder that change comes whether we are ready or not, and we need to be prepared for that eventuality. The majority of my saved quotes are meant to be inspirational in some form or other, but this one is more of an affirmation for me. I do believe that all humans have a remarkable capacity for adaptation – when they choose to engage it. Change & growth run together – stagnation is not a natural human state.
For me, the message in this particular quote is clear – we have to keep learning, and growing, in order to cope with a constantly changing world. Given much of his writing, he likely meant it a bit more literally, but even at its most literal, the meaning is still essentially the same. When confronted with a change in circumstance, it is we that have to change to adapt to it. It doesn’t matter how well you understand how things were, you have to develop an understanding of how they are. To those who are continually fighting to bring back some imaginary ‘good old days’, there is undeniably a lesson in this. Unfortunately, they are the ones least likely to heed the advice.
In a similar spirit, I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes, and rules for living, from Heraclitus:
“There is nothing permanent except change”
Photo of the Hudson River looking south from the Walkway Over the Hudson, circa winter 2017.