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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Discovery isn't Enough

When Louis Pasteur discovered that microscopic organisms were the culprit behind infections, he recommended that all doctors and nurses wash their hands between patients. There was massive resistance in the medical community because they didn’t see the benefit. Pasteur’s discovery was doing nothing to save lives because the people who needed to change weren’t doing it.

Christopher Columbus discovered (or is credited with discovering) a new world with new cultures, new plants and animals and new opportunities. Yet the European nation-states didn’t change their actions. They simply transferred their existing conflicts to the Western Hemisphere. The chance to start everything over with the new discovery was ignored.

For whatever reason we humans can be so enamored with discovery, yet change isn’t the natural next step. We want to know new things, but not have the responsibility to do anything about it. Knowledge is safe, sterile and distant. Knowledge can be contained and tamed so that it makes no demands on how we live. The US educational system is a testament to knowledge divorced from action. The test of learning is a multiple-choice exam. Riskless, feckless and pointless.

I have two degrees in bible, an undergraduate and a master’s degree. In 8 years’ worth of schooling (it may have taken me 12) I had three classes dedicated to practical experience. And there was nothing in all my education that demanded that I change. I was confronted with discoveries about Jesus, the bible and the church on a daily basis, but the litmus test used to determine the worth of my education was writing papers and taking exams. Dedicating my life to discovering more about God had no connection with changing my life to look more like Jesus.

I was discontent, but I didn’t know why. One of the reasons it took me 50% longer to finish my schooling was the fact that I flunked out of college. I didn’t do it on purpose; I just couldn’t muster up the effort necessary to turn in my final projects. I tried, but I just couldn’t do it. Eventually, after taking some time off, I was presented with a compelling reason to finish my education. If I didn’t graduate first, I couldn’t get married (that was the condition set by my father-in-law-to-be). I re-applied myself, finished college and found a purpose for all the education.

But it wasn’t quite the point of all my education. I was happy to complete the task, for the joy set before me, but it didn’t require me to apply anything that I’d discovered.

I can’t blame my professors for teaching me poorly. They did a wonderful job of educating me about the bible. I’m the one who didn’t make a connection between what I was learning and what I was doing. Our educational system isn’t designed to make that connection obvious, but ultimately, it’s my own fault that I didn’t apply everything I discovered and change my life. Not at first, anyway.

Discovery isn’t enough. It must lead to change or the knowledge is useless.

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