Tag Archives: #lifelonglearning

Life-long Learning Requires LIFE-LONG Reading; Reading for the purpose of learning

It takes a lot of books.lifelong-learner

Here’s what I mean.  I am frequently asked “what is the best book you have ever read?”  And then, at times, this question is asked:  “what is the best book you have read on the subject of ____________________?”

I do have some answers:

The best book I have ever read is Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.
Or, maybe, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.

The best book I have ever read about time management is:  Getting Things Done by David Allen.

The best book I have ever read on racial issues is:  as of this moment, How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi.  (But I’m pretty sure that I am going to switch that answer to Caste by Isabel Wilkerson in about three weeks).

Always learningBut, here’s the deal.  I am not a literary critic.  I am a simple learner.  I do read some books for fun and enjoyment, but I mainly read books to learn.  To learn in specific areas.  And to help others learn from these books.

And what I have learned is that if your purpose in reading books is to learn, though there may be one “best book on _________________,” one book, even the best book, is never enough.

For example, this month, I am reading The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap by Mehrsa Baradan.  (I will present my synopsis of this at the Urban Engagement Book Club, sponsored by CitySquare, on Nov. 19). Is it the best book I have read on racial issues?  No.  But is it important? Yes, it is.

I am learning some history that I did not know well enough.  And I am learning a lot about the long-term strategies of people in power – white people — to keep Black people segregated, generally down.  And I am even learning about their strategies to use (abuse) Black people as a means to maximize wealth by using Black people as a major source of money accumulation; all without Black people being given a fair chance to be full participants in the endeavors.

In other words, this book is filling in knowledge gaps that I had, and did not know that I had.

This has happened to me time and time again.  I will read a book.  It is a good book; or, at times, even a mediocre book. But it has something in it that I did not know, and it is something that I needed to know.

You know that phrase “life-long learner?”  Take that phrase literally.  Learning is LIFE-LONG!  You have not yet read the book that would make you say:  “OK. That one did it.  Now I know enough about everything I should know.”

There is always the next book to read, because there is always the next thing to learn.

Life long readingWhat you are reading right now plays only a small part of your life-long learning journey.  This book, right now, supplies a piece of your learning puzzle.

Your questions are:

What am I learning right now?
What will I want and need to learn next?

Keep reading!

Lifelong Learner; Good. Perpetual Student; Better — a Lesson in Learning from Dr. Anthony Fauci

“I have read 2 Harvard senior theses this year – yours and Jenny’s – and I have learned from Perpetual studentboth.  This actually get to a theme that I often weave weave commencement addresses; that is the concept of a “perpetual student.”  I continually learn, even from people like yourself and Jenny who are much younger than I.  Please keep that in mind as you progress in age and experience.”  Tony
Dr. Anthony Fauci, in correspondence with a young medical student who had requested an interview with Dr. Fauci for his undergraduate thesis. The young man is now Dr. Luke Messac, MD, PhD, physician-historian, emergency medicine resident at Brown University. (emphasis added)

Here is the tweet from the young Doctor (@LukeMessac):
13 years ago, I emailed Dr. Fauci out of the blue to ask if I might interview him for my undergrad thesis. He invited me to his office, where he answered all my questions. When I sent him the thesis, HE READ THE WHOLE THING. Who does that?!

And an excerpt from Dr. Anthony Fauci’s, Commencement Address, The Ohio State University, 2016
“The scope of what you have learned here at Ohio State and importantly what you will need to learn after you leave here is like a giant mosaic, and this mosaic of your knowledge and experiences is eternally unfinished, as it should be. You will realize that you will never know as much as you want to or need to know, and you will find that you are participating in a dynamic process with a steep learning curve.”


We seem to use the phrase “life-long learner” with great frequency.  It is a good phrase.  It reminds us that we all have much to learn, and we will spend a lifetime learning new things.

But, this from Dr. Fauci adds a dimension that is significant.

Learning is something you can do kind of passively.  You see something, you hear something, you observe something, you learn something.

Whereas “perpetual student” puts the onus on you.  There is nothing passive about this pursuit.  You are seeking out new knowledge, new ways of thinking.  You are seeking out new things to learn.  You are a student; a perpetual student.  You study things because you are a student.  That is what you do; that is who you are.

Here’s the spectrum:

If you are a lifelong learner, good for you.
If you are a perpetual student, better yet.
And if you are neither, well…you’ve got some soul searching to do.

Why we read books that may teach us new things – a reflection

Once upon a time, nearly everyone believed that it was ok to live in a society where one group of people could “own” other people as enslaved persons.

Once upon a time, nearly everyone believed that it was a good medical practice to “bleed” people who were ill.

Once upon a time, nearly everyone in the medical profession believed that it was a good thing to x-ray expectant mothers. (Seriously).

Once upon a time, nearly everyone (OK – at least a very solid majority) thought that it was the right thing to do to not let women vote in elections.

Once upon a time, people pretty much accepted the idea that companies could lock their workers in a large factory room to make garments; in an upper story; without giving them a means to leave the room, even in case an emergency were to occur.  (cf. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire).

Once upon a time, nearly an entire country pretty much accepted that it was ok to kill millions of people because they were Jewish people.

Once upon a time…there were other things that people were wrong about.
Many things;
Many people.

A brief history of the world shows that a lot of people, and a lot of societies, got a lot wrong.  And then, over time, after arguments and protests and marches and arguments and speeches and votes and demands, things began to change.  For the better.  Even if people thought that it was not for the better at first.

Would anyone like to argue that women should not vote? Or that we should x-ray expectant mothers? Or that one human being should own other human beings as enslaved persons?

“To grow is to change, and to have changed often is to have grown much,” wrote John Henry Newman.

And, yes, some new proposals, some newfangled ideas, are wrong – as wrong as some of the oldfangled ideas.

But, don’t you think you would benefit from reading books, and speeches, that represent different ideas than you now have?  Is it possible that the wrong ideas and actions and viewpoints of the past were not the last ever wrong ideas and actions and viewpoints?

In other words, it is possible that you are wrong about something today – something that matters.

And it is possible that I am wrong about something today – something that matters.

Learning, growing, changing, getting closer to “right,” is what growth is all about.

I’ve got some learning and growing to do.  Maybe you do also.

This Friday, (July 3) Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi – a few thoughts about informed conversation

StampedBeginningTHE TITLE STAMPED FROM THE BEGINNING comes from a speech that Mississippi senator Jefferson Davis gave on the floor of the US Senate on April 12, 1860.
“This Government was not founded by negroes nor for negroes,” but “by white men for white men,” Davis lectured his colleagues. The bill was based on the false notion of racial equality, he declared. The “inequality of the white and black races” was “stamped from the beginning.”
Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning


On Friday, at the First Friday Book Synopsis (on Zoom), along with the excellent business book The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger, I will present my synopsis of Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi.  This book won the National Book Award for nonfiction.

Notice the full title: Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.

Recently, I was talking about the racist history in our country, and our state, with a person who attends our First Friday Book Synopsis events. I read him excerpts from the Cornerstone Speech by Alexander Stephens, the Vice President of the Confederate States of America, and excerpts from the Texas Ordinance of Secession.  Both state, absolutely, that Black people are inferior to white people (thus: white supremacy), and that the proper place for Black people is the place of an enslaved person.  He acknowledged that he had never read that speech, or that document.

White supremacy; enslaved Black people.  This is the history of our country for a substantial amount of our time as a country.  And the ideas behind these realities have lingered for…well, until now.

In other words, there are not two sides of any argument here.  There is only one side.  Read the founding documents of the Confederacy.  Read the speeches and read the actual segregation laws.

And, later, as the decades progressed, it was never separate but equal.  It was quite separate, and quite unequal.

This book by Dr. Kendi reveals in full the racist thinking that underlies and informs so much of what has happened throughout our history.

The definition of the word “ignorance” is about the level of knowledge one has.  Ignorance is defined as “lack of knowledge.”   I am woefully ignorant about so many things;  I am ignorant about chemistry, physics, trigonometry, how to put on make up, how to repair an automobile engine, how to actually make a movie, to name just a few areas of my overwhelming ignorance. But – and I think this is an important but – I do not try to tell a physicist how to think about physics. I do not try to tell an automotive mechanic how to fix an engine.

In other words, if you have ignored studying an issue, you may in fact be ignorant about that issue.

In other words, if you claim to be a life-long learner, maybe you could do some of that learning in areas that you have ignored.

In other words, when one is ignorant about a subject, one should be careful about telling others what’s what about that subject. Ignorance results in uninformed conversations.

If you listen to my synopsis on Friday, and if you read this book by Ibrma X. Kendi, and other books dealing with issues of race, you will learn.  You will possibly learn that you have been told things that were not true. You may realize that you have even repeated some things that were not true.

This is a time to abandon such ignorance.  It is time to learn stuff.

Click here for the details of our First Friday Book Synopsis this Friday, July 3, 2020.  Come join us.


Here is a blog post I wrote after I first presented Dr. Kendi’s book for the Urban Engamen Book Club, sponsored by CitysquareStamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi – My Six Lessons and Takeaways.


Passive Learning vs Active, fully engaged Learning – maybe a greater challenge than ever during the great Global Pandemic of 2020

Philip: “Do you understand what you are reading?”

The Ethiopian Eunuch:  “How can I, unless someone explains it to me?”
(from Acts 8)


Let’s be honest.  We forget so, so much of what we take in.

Recently, my wife and I were watching a Midsomer Murders episode that we were both sure we had never seen.  About half-way through, we realized; yep, we’ve already seen this one.

I watch Columbo occasionally.  I pretty much have a handful of episodes memorized.  But others, I watch, and I think I saw them years ago, but, I’m not sure. I can’t remember.

I’ve downloaded sample pages of books I have already read, and start reading, and realize – I’ve already read this.  That is so embarrassing.

It takes work to be an engaged viewer, reader, learner.

I can pretty much quote about two TED Talks.  But I’ve seen dozens.  I can tell you practically nothing from many — ok; most — of the ones I’ve seen.

Now, if it’s a tv mystery, it does not matter that I have forgotten them.  After, all, I was first watching Columbo nearly 50 years ago.  That is a long, long time ago.

But, If I go to the trouble of reading a book, especially a nonfiction book that I want to learn from, I need to up my engagement game.  A smart man with great life observations, who also happens to be an actor, that I follow on twitter (@jamespmorrison), observed that there is a difference between reading and studying.  Reading is one thing.  Studying is quite another thing.

How do you read as a student; as a learner?  That’s the challenge.

There are a lot of book summary services and products out there.  I’m sure that all of them are good.  But, if you just watch, or just listen, or just skim – sometimes, to be honest, while “multitasking” – you really won’t remember much, retain much,…learn much.

To learn, you have to engage.  You have to debate, argue, discuss, with an open mind. You probably have to go through the material more than once.  You have to work at it.

I am biased here, but I think that this is the unique value of the book synopses I present. Though one can just listen, I provide deeper engagement options.  In the old days, long ago when we had live gatherings (three months ago was our last before the shutdown), I would give every participant a physical synopsis handout for each book I present.  People would follow along; I would call attention to item after item on page after page.  Those who “learned” how to actively participate would have their pens out, marking key passages in the handouts, writing in the margins.  I have been told by many that they go back over the handouts later, re-reading them, re-absorbing and re-pondering them.

In other words, they actually study the handouts.

{Note:  in this remote era, I provide the pdfs of the synopses handouts before the event, and people print out their own copies at home.  And, as I look at the small images through Zoom, I see plenty of folks following along, pens in hand, just like the good old days…  But, I think that such full attentiveness may be an even greater challenge in this remote era}.

I can assure you of this:  I cannot prepare a synopsis without studying the book carefully.  I highlight hundreds of passages.  I reduce those to a smaller number (almost nearly a hundred) for my handouts.  I work diligently to capture the best lessons, and then to arrive at my lessons and takeaways.  Every time I present a book, it is almost like I am reading it four times

1st – I read the book
2nd – I prepare the handout, re-reading every highlight I made
3rd – I read over my handout carefully before I present the synopsis, marking up my notes with many underlinings, circling of key phrases, notes in the margin to myself
4th – I present the synopsis, and as I do, I am reminding myself again of the key lessons and takeaways

So, of course, I get the most out of the synopses.  Teachers learn

(Teachers learn, and then teach as well as they can. Remember the old adage:  if you really want to learn something, teach it to someone else. Here’s one version: “If you want to learn something, read about it. If you want to understand something, write about it. If you want to master something, teach it.” — Yogi Bhajan).

And then, those who are engaged, present, and attentive, tell me they get a great deal out of the presentations.

So… the question for you is this:  Are you simply a “passive learner?”  Just receiving what comes your way.  Or, do you prepare yourself to put aside all distractions, and engage fully in every learning opportunity you decide to pursue?

An engaged, active, attentive learner actually learns more than one who is unengaged, passive; not fully present.

How are you doing?

Is the Upper Limit of your mind lower than it used to be? – Why you may not be Reading, or Understanding, Books – Insight from David Brooks

A personal note:  this could be significant.  Please read it carefully…


Let’s just start with the excerpt from David Brooks.  It is important. Here it is: 

My worry is that, especially now that you’re out of college, you won’t put enough really excellent stuff into your brain. I’m talking about what you might call the “theory of maximum taste.” This theory is based on the idea that exposure to genius has the power to expand your consciousness. If you spend a lot of time with genius, your mind will end up bigger and broader than if you spend your time only with run-of-the-mill stuff.
The theory of maximum taste says that each person’s mind is defined by its upper limit—the best that it habitually consumes and is capable of consuming.
A few years ago, I was teaching students at a highly competitive college. Simultaneously, I was leading seminars for 30- and 40-somethings, many of whom had gone to that same college. I assigned the same essay to both groups, an essay on Tolstoy by the political philosopher Isaiah Berlin. The college students found it easy to read; it’s not that hard of an essay to grasp. The 30- and 40-somethings really struggled. Their reading-comprehension ability had declined in the decades since college, and so had their ability to play with ideas. The upper limit of their mind was lower than it used to be.
David Brooks, A Commencement Address Too Honest to Deliver in Person—The Atlantic, May 13, 2020

If you search out the statistics, you will discover that people kind of quit reading “serious” books after their college years.  Not all people.  But many people; too many.  Especially men.

Yes, I know the argument in favor of good novels.  But, I am mainly speaking about serious nonfiction books, and substantive essays here.  Books that take you on a learning journey; that teach you things that it would help you to know; or, maybe, even simply teaching you how to think about ideas.

I have long believed that there are book readers, and non-book readers. The comments from David Brooks maybe helps me understand the why behind this.

When you are in college, you pretty much have to read the assigned readings.  Books; essays; academic journals.  I know that I never read as much in as short a period of time as I did when I was doing graduate work at the University of Southern California.  It was a whole other level of reading.  Hundreds, thousands of pages assigned. I read, and read and read…

I remember when I first started my graduate program, it was a new field to me:  Communication: Rhetoric and Public Address.  I did not understand what I was reading.  One of my professors, a great professor, told me to just keep reading, and it would slowly begin to sink in.  He said it could take about six months, and then, I would understand as I read.  He was right.  I got acclimated to the vocabulary, to the ways of thinking.  I understood what I was reading.

I am lucky, in a sense.  I have found a way to make my living professionally by doing a fair amount of serious reading. I read books and present synopses of the books I read – somewhere around 40-50 book synopses a year. (I read more books than I present).  Business books, mainly.  But also books on social justice.  Some of the books are “popular.’’ Some are more academic.  But, my work requires me to take a deep dive into the books I present.

What David Brooks is saying is this:  use it, or you will lose it.  If you don’t keep reading, and discussing what you read, you will lose the ability to read with deep focus and understanding. And the result is that you will, in his phrase, drop down in the “theory of maximum taste” path: The upper limit of your mind will be lower than it used to be.

It’s a really alarming, and sad, insight, isn’t it?!

If he is right – and I think he is – then a whole bunch of folks need to get back to doing more serious reading.

When I present my synopses, I prepare multi-page, comprehensive synopsis handouts.  I make sure that every audience member has a copy, and I encourage them to follow along with pen in hand.  I read a significant portion of my handout aloud.  And the first section of the handout includes the best of my highlighted passages from the book.  I am, in a sense, helping my audience members read enough that it feels like something of a direct encounter with the book; with the author’s own words and ideas.

I add my own lessons and takeaways.  But, my audience members are active participants.  They are not simply watching slides, or passively listening; they are engaged with my synopsis of the text.  They are…learning.

So, what about you.  What are you doing to keep learning?  Would you be able to read a serious text, now, and discuss it intelligently?  Or is the upper limit of your mind lower than it used to be; lower than you want it to be?

Of course it would be better to read the book for yourself.  But, this is not nothing.  Maybe this could be a start to help one get back on the higher portions of “the theory of maximum taste” path.

Maybe it’s time to get back at it!


Try one of my synopses.  Each comes with my comprehensive handout, plus the audio recording of my presentation.  You can purchase them at the buy synopses tab at the top of this page. Click here for our newest additions.