Education is in disarray, so I am told. Teachers and professors teach or are made to teach stupid and useless things. Parents have lost confidence about values. I hear these complaints from the US, and I hear it from my friends in Europe. Having become a father to a son recently, these concerns made me think about what really matters for an education. After all, I am not a young father, so I may dare to try to utter some words of advice. This essay can also be read as an endeavor to define the Liberal Education in the classical sense, and it may also be read as an “anti-postmodernist” educational statement. I also do not claim to be original as much of what I say has been said before although I feel it deserves to be said again.
Here is the letter to my newborn son:
Never lose confidence, neither in yourself nor in the world into which you were born.
What makes us go are scarcity and problems.
Use your rational mind. Man’s rationality is not an essence but a means. You need not be rationalistic in all matters but you should strive to make the best use of your rationality as a tool.
Don’t try to look too far into the future nor too emotionally into the past. What you can do is here and now. The rest is mostly fantasy.
Practice adaptive planning and avoid wishful thinking. Set goals, device means and adapt to new situations and to new knowledge.
Don’t take people too seriously, just as you should avoid too much earnestness with yourself.
Be neither submissive nor dominating.
Be truthful to yourself.
Keep in mind that whatever you do and whoever you are or whatever anybody else is or does, we are all mortal human beings.
Seek for both: divine guidance and apply your rational mind. Man’s knowledge is very limited and his instincts are unreliable.
Reality as the ultimate truth lies beyond our grasp.
Keep your soul to yourself. The way to inner peace is self-knowledge.
The world is in constant flux and we hardly know the past and we do not know the future. Nobody knows what's coming; so do not worry about the future in an abstract way. Try to get the best out of the present situation and take care that what you do today will cause no suffering in the future: neither for you nor for other people. Try spreading good seeds.
Embrace what is given to you, but avoid dependence. Learn to love as an independent person.
Be thrifty without being a miser.
Learn practical skills.
Skills to create, acquire and make use of knowledge are the key to prosperity
Effective communication and basic arithmetic: these two are the two important practical skills.
Your endeavor to be good at writing, reading and arithmetic is the path to education.
When you study, take care that you have thought through your ideas and make sure that they are in line with your inner self.
Time and money form the structure of the modern world. Both are based on calculation. Accept these rules and make yourself a master in applying the laws that they imply.
When you think, use a pencil. Writing will help you to clarify your mind.
Don't bank on luck.
Learn to understand the magic of interest rates, and learn to use its laws to your favor.
Learn bookkeeping and apply it to the management of your time and money.
Work persistently and without haste towards your goals.
Do your homework. Being prepared will give you confidence even when the situation should be different from what you expected it to be.
Find the work you like. Work will occupy most of your time. When you don’t like your work, your precious time will be wasted. Do not fall into this trap.
Finding your desired kind of work requires that you learn about your talents. If you do not find a special talent, cultivate your abilities. If you do not have outstanding abilities, build on your character. In the end, most of what you may achieve, results from enduring work.
Develop your sense for grasping opportunity.
Do not make yourself a slave of greed.
Find out about what and how you feel and how you think when confronted with the things around you. This way you learn to know yourself.
Sometimes a man’s life is drifting. The longer you drift, the harder it will be to get back on track. So shift in time. Be flexible and move. Avoid stagnation. Do a little bit of the opposite when something goes wrong.
Sometimes in life pain and suffering will occur. Do not render to self-pity.
Never complain. Act calmly when you have to be assertive.
Take success and failure for what they are: temporary and very subjective.
Nothing is constant, and even the almost perfect repetition of anything is not the same as it was before.
Be emotionally sincere with yourself and with others: don’t play with your own feelings and those of anybody else. In the end it is your feelings what and who you are.
Form your own personality. Do not imitate blindly. Give your personal touch to the things you do.
No great things come from hubris.
Be watchful against authorities of all kinds.
Becoming wiser is more important than being merely intelligent.
Take heed of the fools and take heed of the cunning.
Try to obtain and maintain inner strength.
The riskier the endeavor, the more prudence is required.
Many good things start with pain and lead to pleasure. Many bad things start with pleasure and end in pain.
When taking the first steps you are free, then come the consequences.
Some things seem to come effortlessly, but in a man's life rarely do things come without a price tag attached.
Try early on to define what life should mean for you. Search truthfully for your inner personal aspirations. Failure is as subjective as success. The result depends on how carefully you have defined your aspirations.
Be careful with the things you have, the things you do and about what you say.
Do not read passively, do not listen passively, do not watch things passively. At least intellectually and emotionally, always take your own position.
Learn to appreciate music. Learn at least one musical instrument. It will enrich your life and together with poetry it will help you fill the emotional gaps that will occur.
Learn a kind of sport that you can practice for a long time, as you get older.
Learn to enjoy the pleasures of good eating and drinking in company.
Learn to know the limit when fun gets out of control.
Singing and drinking should be done in company. Do not fall into the habit of drinking when alone.
Study what nature has given to us. The knowledge about what you eat and drink is a feast in itself.
The company of good friends is one of greatest pleasures of life. Companionship should be regarded as your emotional pastime; true friendship should be guarded. Avoid peer group pressure.
Hatred is a very strong feeling, and sometimes some people who are deprived turn to hate in order to feel powerful. When you oppose the evil, never let the feelings of hate and revenge conquer your own heart or mind.
Melancholy is the soft tide of sadness that floods the human soul once in a while. But these feelings form the basis of serendipity when you emerge from the dusk. The experience of melancholy will help you feel softer and more generous, more benign and more forgiving. After phases like that you may emerge more resilient and stronger.
When you will be touched by melancholy, make sure that this feeling does not take hold of you. Learn to recognize the slim line where feelings and situations turn from good into bad.
In life there is always a balance to make.
Cultivate a spirit of dedication, joy, desire, and strength.
A letter from your father.
October 6, 2004