How to never stop learning

Some basic reminders for building community and having good conversations for your whole life, an invitation to discuss, & the recording for our discussion on Dr. King and the Great Conversation

Gracious readers,

This week we’ll explore:

  • How to find friends and a community of people to nourish your mind and your soul

  • Word of the week: vocare, the Latin word for “to call”

  • An invitation to discuss How to never stop learning—exploring the WHY and the HOW of the intellectual life

  • A recording of our conversation on Dr. King and the Classics

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How to find more time in your day to nourish your soul

Today, I would like to share with you some of the ideas from my second book—the proposal for which, I’m thrilled to share, I just finished last week.

The book is premised on three main ideas, and is divided into three basic parts (one for each main idea).

Here are the three main ideas:

  1. No education is complete without having read certain books, asked—and answered for ourselves—certain questions, and encountered certain ideas and works of art. In fact, this form of education never really ends.

  2. Too often, our formal schooling focuses on test scores, getting through curriculum, and metrics. Yet it’s easy to forget that often, when it comes to education—and many other important aspects of human life—what is most important cannot be captured or reduced to a metric.

    Frequently, throughout our formal schooling, we miss the chance to ask big questions—What does it mean to be human? What is the purpose of life? What is the best way to live?—to explore eternal ideas, and to encounter great books and works of art. Yet such things are necessary to be truly educated, and to lead fulfilling lives.

  3. We don’t need to quit our jobs, uproot our lives and families, and go back to school to get this kind of education. We can start right here, right now—and it will dramatically improve our lives, and enrich how we view and engage with the world around us.

    Every person can and must pursue two vocations simultaneously. The first must provide for our bodies. It usually fills a market need and allows us to be self-sufficient in the world and provide for ourselves and those we love. The second vocation meets our intellectual and spiritual needs. It nourishes our hearts and minds. It cultivates our interior life.

    Our word vocation comes from the Latin word vocare, which means “to call.”

    Both of these vocations—the one that provides for the body, and one that provides for the mind and soul—call us to become fully human, and to leading a fulfilling life. This is because we are not purely physical or purely immaterial beings. We are mind, body, and spirit; and we must tend to each of these aspects of our humanity to completely realize our human-ness.

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Here are, in short, the book’s three basic part:

  1. The “WHAT”

  2. The “WHY”

  3. And the “HOW”

of lifelong learning, the life of the mind, and the Great Conversation.

Today, I’m going to share with you a few ideas I explore in my book proposal about HOW to find more opportunity to nourish your eternal soul in conversation and community with others.

This section of the book will explore many common challenges people face to having an intellectual life while working full-time.

One such challenge is a lack of TIME.

Another is a lack of QUIET, STILLNESS and opportunity for LEISURE and REFLECTION.

Another is a lack of a COMMUNITY, of friends that care about the same things. The intellectual life is the social—and the civil—life, after all.

Here are some basic reminders for positive social interactions with others, and some tips for having the good conversation necessary to keep our minds sharp and our intellectual life vibrant. By keeping these in mind, we’ll be empowered with the confidence we need to make new friends—and build more communities—around ideas and conversations about the highest things. These tips are useful reminders for how to be a friend, how to form friendships on shared loves, and how to build a community centered around lifelong learning.

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  1. The best conversationalists are those who bring out the best in others. One contemporary of the English writer Samuel Johnson noted that, while many said Johnson may not have been the best listener in the world, he knew how to get “people to talk on their favorite subjects, and on what they knew best.” The curious person is often a good conversationalist because they are eager to listen to, and learn about, whatever others are most interested in talking about.

  2. Seek the good of those with whom you converse. Benjamin Franklin, in a famous essay, On Conversation, reminds us that well-liked people make others feel good about themselves. This does not mean resorting to obsequious flattery in order to curry favor. But it doesn’t hurt to adapt our conversation style, topic, and tone in order to be more amenable to others. Franklin wrote, “In short, be his Study to command his own Temper, to learn the Humours of Mankind, and to conform himself accordingly.”

  3. Remember that, when it comes to friendship, it’s not about you. Curiosity and a shared love of learning are excellent foundations for friendship, because they help us focus on things OTHER than impressing one another. This self-forgetfulness is essential to forming true and lasting friendships. As C .S. Lewis wrote, “In social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making.”

  4. Don’t forget the importance of humility. The best conversations are between those who are willing to learn—and that requires acknowledging what we don’t know.

  5. Don’t hide behind intelligence. Let curiosity be a bridge, and don’t let intellect be a barrier. Montaigne especially didn’t like people who paraded their credentials in an attempt to silence conversation. He lamented, “Let him remove his academic hood, his gown and his Latin; let him stop battering our ears with raw chunks of pure Aristotle.”

  6. Don’t look down on people for thinking differently than you. In other words, don’t be like Rene Descartes, who said, “I have never met with a single critic of my opinions who did not appear to me either less rigorous or less equitable than myself.”

  7. Let go of the need to be right. Be open. Uncertainty requires vulnerability, but it is essential for learning and for friendship — as well as for good repartee. Dogmatism, in short, is the enemy of dialogue. Remember what Dostoyevsky told us: “Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.” But it is also what is necessary for us to grow, and become better, and become more fully ourselves.

  8. Try to avoid getting defensive. A natural outgrowth of letting go of the need to be right is letting go of defensiveness. As we build our identities more on shared interests and ideas, our identities will become less defined by being right at all costs.

  9. Be willing to laugh at yourself and others. Don’t take yourself—or your interlocutor—too seriously.

  10. Embrace nuance. Be open to the fact that multiple things can be true at once. Avoid thinking that can be reduced to a bumper sticker— or a tweet.

  11. Listen earnestly. Don’t merely wait for your turn to talk.

  12. Remember the difference between talking and conversing. Samuel Johnson noted this important difference. It was easy to make noise without anything really being said. Johnson wanted discussions to be the stuff of substance—the stuff of true conversation.

  13. Remember that, with conversation, the journey is the destination. Conversation, like learning, is good for its own sake. Enjoy the ride! And remember Michael Oakeshott’s observation: conversation is an “unrehearsed intellectual adventure.”

  14. Above all, be kind. Remember George Washington’s admonition: “Let your conversation be without malice or envy, for it is a sign of a tractable and commendable nature.”

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Did you find these reminders helpful?

What are the biggest challenges you face in having a robust life of the mind?

I’d love to hear rom you!

Write to me with your thoughts at ah@alexandraohudson.com

P.S. My friend and mentor Dana Gioia shared with me the beginnings of a video series he recently produced on a topic related to today’s CR reflection: HOW can we make more time in our lives for creative work?

He offered some excellent ideas for how to have a creative life even while working a full-time job. Check out parts one and two here.

Enjoy!

How to never stop learning

Please join us this Wednesday, Oct 27 at 12-1 ET for a special event with Zena Hitz, tutor at St. John’s College in Annapolis and a fellow lover of ideas, the Great Conversation, and the life of the mind.

Join us for this dialogue on the WHY and the HOW of lifelong learning!

Reserve your spot now!

Those who register and join this event will have a chance to win:

  1. A copy of Zena’s book, Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of the Intellectual Life

  2. A ONE YEAR subscription to Wondrium!

    (You can also sing up for a FREE month trial here!)

I hope you’ll join us!

Dr. King and the Classics recording

Thanks to those of you who joined our conversation on Dr. King’s education and moral formation last week! To enjoy the fun-filled dialogue in its entirely, view the recording below:

Thank you for being part of the Civic Renaissance community!