As we’re all coming to grips with being confined to our homes, life does have wonderfully strange ways of showing us the occasional silver lining, or at least presenting us with opportunities to create it for ourselves.
For me the silver lining has been to be able to catch up on my first love – reading. The commute-less days leave me with plenty of time and peace to curl up with a book and lose myself in another world. It’s an experience I treasure and one which perhaps I had lost much of a connection with during recent years, as I trudged through life’s mundane challenges.
The latest “treasure” that I had the good fortune of being introduced to by my daughter, is the book “Educated” by Tara Westover. While this isn’t a book review I am attempting to write, it’s more about what I took away from this memoir and from the interviews of the author about her work. There are some precious insights in there that are so valuable that I felt I just had to document them, although they have made an indelible impression on my mind and are a permanent addition to my repertoire of core beliefs and ideals.
To begin with a brief backdrop – the author grew up in a family adhering to a survivalist sect (in Idaho, U.S.) that believed in minimalistic living. This meant never getting the chance of a formal education, never availing the benefits of modern medicine and pretty much leading a predictable, isolated life tucked away from the rest of the world.
“Educated” is the author’s journey depicting her struggles and conflicts as she finally breaks free from that mold to take her first steps (at the age of seventeen) towards getting herself a formal education (finally culminating in a PhD from Cambridge University). What’s fascinating about this autobiography is not only the transformation that this journey brings about in the author, but the manner in which her sensitive mind understands some deeper truths that most of us who take our education for granted, often simply miss out on.
Truth # 1: Stop putting people into boxes
I doubt anyone of us can claim to be innocent of this trait. Tara Westover admits in each of her interviews, that during her initial days at the university, she still held the same prejudices about race, gender stereotypes and homophobia that she had been raised with. She cringes at the memory of the times when she had expressed her outdated opinions over casual conversations, but at the same time is grateful to friends who did not give up on her, countering her every argument with reason and logic until she could expand her mind to grow out of them.
Taking a look at this from another perspective, she also encountered religious bigots who although unflinching in their stance, demonstrated unusual levels of compassion and generosity that many modern and open-minded people may never have been capable of.
There is value in every person and individuals are too complex to be categorised based on their external and even internal traits.
Truth # 2: Reality is usually a far cry from our assumptions
If the human race understood this fact, the world would be a gentler, more peaceful place. The author talks about the rural-urban divide in the U.S. that is characterized by heaps of misinformation and ignorance about each by the other. Having been a part of both sides, she says that the way people in rural Idaho describe city dwellers and vice versa couldn’t in fact be farther away from the truth. Stereotypes are only a part and do not constitute the whole.
Drawing parallels to our world – how easily do we fall prey to prejudices about people from other ethnicities, religions or from “enemy countries”, and cling on to them as if our very lives and faith depended on those apprehensions and antipathies.
Beneath the layers of diverse cultural beliefs and traditions, we are essentially the same beings, driven by the same motivations, fuelled by the same feelings.
Truth # 3: The real meaning of education
It’s normal to get carried away while we try to define what being educated means. Does it only mean acquiring expertise in a field or knowing more about a particular topic than most of those around you? The author’s words from a recent interview sum it up beautifully when she describes education as the “spirit of enquiry”. Being educated is not so much about knowing a whole lot of things but more about trying to explore ideas alien to yours. It’s about viewing the world with an open mind, allowing your curiosity to broaden the horizons of your knowledge and having the grace and humility to accept different points of view.
The long and short of it: being truly educated necessarily means shedding every iota of arrogance and continuing to be a life-long seeker in the quest for knowledge.
Grateful to this silver lining – a great book that reconnected me with the three fundamental truths that are often forgotten in the hustle and bustle of daily living.