One of the best ways to learn something is to teach it to someone else. This is true because when you teach something, you get to learn it twice.
That’s why, on my way to reading 1,000 books, I stop and share the best insights and lessons here on Medium.
Today’s book is called You Learn by Living, by Eleanor Roosevelt, a former First Lady of the United States and an inspiration to generous, adventurous people everywhere. Let’s check it out!
You can also come along for the ride to 1,000 books (and beyond) by joining my email list here.
Why would you even get up in the morning if today was going to be exactly like yesterday?
In a universe of two trillion galaxies and a world of seven billion people, no two days are ever exactly the same, and your personal decline starts when you turn away from this gorgeous fact.
“When you stop learning you stop living in any vital and meaningful sense. And the purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”
Even worse, I think, is when we stifle a child’s desire to know. We should take children’s questions seriously, I think, and admit when we don’t know the answer!
If we refuse to answer a child’s question the first time, they may ask again. But if we never have time for their queries or never let them know that we respect them for asking, then they’ll stop asking.
“There is a wonderful word, ‘why,’ that children use. All children. When they stop using it, the reason, too often, is that no one bothered to answer them, no one tried to keep alive one of the most important attributes a person can have: interest in the world around him. No one fostered and cultivated the child’s innate sense of the adventure of life.”
“One of the things I believe most intensely is that every child’s why should be answered with care — and respect. If you do not know the answer, and you often will not, then take the child with you to a source to find the answer. This may be a dictionary or encyclopedia which he is too young to use himself, but he will have had a sense of participation in finding the answer.”
What warmed me up to Eleanor even more is learning that, even after she became First Lady, she used to drive herself everywhere (when she could) — refusing the help of the Secret Service — carried a gun, and knew how to use it!
She wasn’t a gifted public speaker the first time she stepped up to the microphone; she wasn’t fearless on the international stage from the very first meeting with another world leader. She had to work up to these things. She had to force herself to overcome her fears and self-imposed limitations and do it anyway.
“You must make yourself succeed every time. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
Social fear largely disappears when you start thinking more about other people and less about yourself. When you become interested in other people, you become interesting to other people. That’s how you break your own shell.
“Freedom must always be contained within the framework of other people’s freedom.”
The only way anyone can plan their life is to make themselves ready for anything. I learned this way before I knew much about who Eleanor Roosevelt was, but there’s a question you have to ask yourself:
Do you want an easy life?
Do you want the strength to endure a difficult one?
“Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down.”
When people think about gaining self knowledge — and when you run up against fear, you learn a lot about yourself — it’s usually taken to mean “finding out everything that’s wrong with you,” or what needs to be fixed.
However, there’s a whole other side of self knowledge that’s concerned with finding the goodness and the strength within you as well.
Self-knowledge isn’t all dragons and monsters. But it is lonely, or at least the path towards self-knowledge can be, because by definition we have to go it alone.
No one can help us to self-knowledge, except perhaps by holding up a mirror to ourselves.
Not even the gun-toting, Secret-Service-dodging Eleanor Roosevelt can lead us to self-knowledge.
She says it herself:
“Take fifty of our current proverbial sayings — they are so trite, so threadbare, that we can hardly bring our lips to utter them. None the less they embody the concentrated experience of the race, and the man who orders his life according to their teaching cannot go far wrong. How easy that seems! Has any one ever done so? Never. Has any man ever attained to inner harmony by pondering the experience of others? Not since the world began! He must pass through the fire.”
All the best,
Additional Notes from the Book:
“I think it is a tremendous loss to a child to grow up in a family without conversation.”
“Anything that keeps before the child the realization that life is an exciting business, that it is to be approached in a spirit of adventure.”
“The knowledge of how little you can do alone teaches you humility.”
Don Quixote: “Until death it is all life.”
“Your ambition should be to get as much life out of living as you possibly can, as much enjoyment, as much interest, as much experience, as much understanding. Not simply to be what is generally called ‘a success.’”
“To leave the world richer — that is the ultimate success.”
“How many of us, I wonder, dare to look like ourselves?”
“Get ahead of whom? There is no one I want to shove past.”
Spinoza: “Men believe a thing when they behave as though it were true.”
“They who are all things to their neighbors, cease to be anything to themselves.”