Hugo Martins, student and 18-year-old author, doesn’t think today’s man is doing enough to stay intellectually engaged.
I am a lover of past generations. As much as I adore the time I was born in (and I wouldn’t have it any other way) I do have to admit that there are other generations that did a far better job on Earth than we have so far.
We are the most informed and possibly the most success-driven generation ever; no one has had so much access to information and the quality of life that we do. Our society has advanced exponentially in the past half-century alone. But despite all of these advances, there is one thing that has stagnated over the past couple of decades—the evolution of the modern, thinking man.
I like to study the past lives of great men—people like Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, and Ernest Hemingway. The amount of knowledge and wisdom accumulated by said personalities is astonishing and brilliant. I like to study them because I believe they did a far better job with the opportunities they had than what we are doing, and I think we can learn a lot by looking back for a moment to reflect. It’s like taking two steps backwards in order to go infinite steps forward.
It is this study of past generations that my worries about our generation stem from. To put it bluntly, we are simply not as cultured as those that came before us. In a time when information was scarce, men enjoyed every opportunity to absorb what was available to them. We are now situated in a time and society that floods us with information—there is no shortage, no scarcity—and yet we, as a people, have refused to absorb what is available to us. We have, at times, grown lazy and, what’s worse, complacent with our own intellectual mediocrity.
In the past, the main way to keep informed was through newspapers. My generation might find it odd to read a newspapers nowadays, but it’s still one of the best ways to stay informed about the world news and about what is happening to your country — whether hard-copy or online, in one form or another. The mere act of being informed is enough to foster conversation and reflection.
Centuries ago, men waited for weeks, even months, to hear news about what was going on half way around the world. And it wasn’t just the daily news that kept people well-informed and intellectually engaged; it was literature of every shape and size. In generations before our own, men read everything from romances to histories to biographies to philosophy to—a taboo today—poetry. Some of the most influential books have been published in just the past century alone: The Great Gatsby, The Grapes of Wrath, One Hundred Years of Solitude, just to name a (small) few of the literary greats. Throw philosophy into the mix and you wind up with names like Wittgenstein and Heidegger. The sheer intellectual output of the last hundred years is humbling.
There’s a reason why reading was a hobby for years, and why it is still alive today. Reading is important. As Henry David Thoreau eloquently pointed out, books are our chance to learn in hours or days what some men learned in years, because, in its most essential sense, books are nothing more than the exposition of thoughts and knowledge. Or, in the more contemporary words of author Stephen King: reading is a form of magic. It is a way of communicating through time and space, a transmission of knowledge with no physical or temporal bounds.
That simple act of reading led the intellectual giants of the past to do considerable writing throughout their lives. They utilized the magic that King speaks of in order to pass their own knowledge and wisdom down through time to those that came after.
Most of what we know about past histories and cultures we know because someone took the time to write the information down. Leonardo da Vinci’s journals, for example, contain some of the most radical ideas and descriptions of his time—and they would have been lost had he not written them down.
We need to stay mentally active in order to evolve. It’s not so hard to find people that believe that studying ends when they finish high school or college. The better path is to take the time to read, to write, to learn, and to pass out thoughts and knowledge on to those who came after.
We must be forever students—students in life. Living is a continuous process and it must be followed by continuous learning, the continuous consumption of ideas, because it is only when we have consumed enough that we can begin producing our own. The best men, in my experience, are those who were able to learn from the past in order to teach and mold the future.