The way we speak to people brave enough to endure bankruptcy for the pursuit of knowledge is unkind:
“How much will you be able to earn?”
“Who cares about that though?”
“What kind of jobs can you get with that degree?”
“Who will hire you?”
“But what will you do with that?”
To deeply study, to research, to fill your mind and the minds of others with knowledge – is not about job prospects. There are far more “practical” ways to do that. I suggest finance, accounting, or business.
What I believe we should tell people brave enough to endure bankruptcy for knowledge is “thank you.”
Thank you for being the keepers of information, the holders of history, the inquirers of truth, the bastions of intellectual rigor and honesty.
Thank you for caring enough to preserve our history, challenge our notions of certainty, test our assumptions, pierce our veils of simplicity, and push for a better understanding of ourselves and the universe. Even if, to those at brunch, it seems like you’re “just pontificating on the bacteria that exists on the wingspan of a gnat that only lives in a very specific region of Kathmandu’s northeast upper west corner on Fridays in September.”
Throughout history we had explorers. Today, we have research. They are our explorers.
They are the ones braving null results and obscurity, asking questions the rest of us find boring, pushing deeper and deeper, and following their curiosity until it provides us answers that might not go anywhere for centuries.
Until it does. Like how we got genetics or radio waves or written language.
Teachers, researchers, academics, principal investigators, research assistants, lab technicians, and doctoral students do not deserve our disdain. They deserve our respect.
If you can’t see the value in information, or the applicability of a project or pursuit in the long term, then we should be apologizing to you for the systems failed you. That is a sad way to go through life.
Poetry, history, language, science, math, research, and study are the conduits of culture.
Poetry is where we go to remember who we are. To find answers to what we cannot quantify. History is a tale of who we used to be and how we got to here and why. Language, I mean. Do you even know the world if you haven’t learned another language? You can make no claims with certainty until you can see the world from an entirely different conceptualization. Where there is no word “to be” or “am.” Where a car has a gender. Where sound and tone denote meaning.
It all matters. It is what makes life so magnificent.
“Impractical” is a judgment based on a very rigid and narrow view of the world rooted in fear.
And a person with that view will not have much fulfillment or wonder.
Because that would require getting lost in knowledge.
And what would you do with that?
Ps: Please enjoy this delightful jaunt into a scroll found of the first Jewish limerick (which is NOT a Jewish thing).
The piece explores this academic question: “WTF, scholars asked themselves. Who are the Jews setting their liturgy to…church music?”
Tl;dr an Italian dude’s brother and dad joined the first crusades. Then, he converts to Judaism while we were being actively murdered by his family members. AND THEN he drafted this diddy in Gregorian (read: not Jewish) sound.
But that’s not the best part. The best part is that hundreds of years later scholars figured it all out because they RECOGNIZED THIS GUY’S HANDWRITING ON A SCROLL RANDOMLY!!!
And the only reason we have any of it is because Jews are very neurotic about how you dispose of documents with God’s name on it. However, we are apparently also lazy so some clergy members just…never got around to burying the scrolls and they were saved in the basements of synagogues in North Africa and Iran. I MEAN COME ON.
But yeah….what will you do with that?
But maybe, also, everything.
This piece was originally an email. Get on Margo’s email list here.