Citizen of the World Guides
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WHAT'S REALLY IMPORTANT
chapter 14
Become an Interested Individual
 

Part of the purpose of a good education is to broaden your awareness of what is going on in the world and to improve your ability to think about things in a rational manner. Upon the completion of your formal education, you need to continue to nourish your mind with activities unrelated to work or your profession. Failure to do so means you will commit the double sin of boring both yourself and those around you. It is a great asset in life to be regarded as an interesting individual, which can only be attained by someone who is truly “interested”.
The first step is to determine the best way for you to keep yourself informed about what is currently happening of any consequence in your community, country and the world. Recognizing the competing demands on your time, you need to access different sources of news on a regular basis to gain a basic understanding of some of the most important issues likely to affect your life. More important than the news itself is exposing yourself to informed analysis and commentary on the major news stories, events and trends occurring.
Consequently, I recommend you get into the habit of reading one or two of the best daily newspapers available in print or through the Internet. This does not mean you should attempt to read most of the articles or even every section in the newspaper. But at least scan through the newspaper, looking at the headlines and reading some part or all of those articles that are of interest to you.
If this is not possible, regularly watch television news programs. The information you receive from these sources, however, will likely be more compressed and limited, compared with what you will receive from reading most newspapers. Some weekly magazines, such as the Economist, also provide an excellent source of news analysis and commentary.
Recently, Internet blogs have mushroomed in number to become a serious alternative source of news information, especially about certain specialized subjects. While many blogs are operated by so-called “amateurs”, they do provide a fast-responding, unfiltered source of news and information that is quickly growing in popularity.
In my case, I favor the print media for my primary source of news commentary and information. From Monday through Saturday, I usually scan through a national newspaper, a local newspaper and sometimes the Wall Street Journal. On the weekend, I also read the Sunday edition of the New York Times, including its separate Book Review section. When traveling outside of Canada and the U.S., I read the daily edition of the International New York Times. On most days, I typically only read about three or four newspaper articles of any serious length from start to finish and partially read another six to ten articles.
To gain a valuable perspective on newsmakers, economic issues, the arts and politics, each week I automatically tape the four to five one-hour American television interview shows hosted by Charlie Rose and then later decide to watch those that are of particular interest to me. Rose either interviews a wide range of leading personalities one-on-one or a group of experts on a current topical issue. For close to 20 years, Rose has been hosting the “Charlie Rose Show” and has an uncanny knack for asking the right questions of his guests. You can view most of his past interviews at www.charlierose.com.
Based on your strongest non-work interests, identify the best magazines and blogs that cover these fields and become a regular reader of several of them. This will add to your depth of understanding about those subjects that mean the most to you.
In addition, take an active interest in cultural activities that give you pleasure. This ideally should go beyond listening to your favorite music or going to movies. Take advantage of opportunities to attend live performances of the theatre, musical groups and the ballet, depending on what appeals to you. Go to art galleries and museum shows. Learn to play a musical instrument if you have any aptitude for doing so.
I also strongly recommend that you make the time to enjoy reading both fiction and non-fiction books. The Spanish author Arturo Perez-Reverte wrote in one of his novels: “Books are doors that lead out into the street. You learn from them, educate yourself, travel, dream, imagine, live other lives, multiply your own life a thousand times … Sometimes I wonder how you people that don’t read figure out how to live your lives.” How very true.
Reading books can become a great source of lifelong pleasure for virtually anyone. There are books for every interest and taste. Become a regular visitor to bookstores and libraries. Discover new favorite authors. Enjoy reading biographies about the fascinating lives of notable individuals. Learn more about history or current events.
In an article in the International Herald Tribune, Andrew Solomon wrote: “You are what you read. If you read nothing, then your mind withers, and your ideals lose their vitality and sway … The role of literature is to illuminate, to strengthen, to explain why some aspect of life is beautiful or terrible or sad or important or insignificant for people who might otherwise not understand so much or so well. Reading is experience, but it also enriches other experience.” This is particularly the case in reading fiction and literature, including poetry.
The author Barbara Kingsolver said, “Good fiction creates empathy. A novel takes you somewhere and asks you to look through the eyes of another person, to live another life. Literature sucks you into another psyche. So the creation of empathy necessarily influences how you’ll behave to other people.”
Another great way to stimulate your personal development is to take advantage of any opportunities you have to travel to other parts of both your country and the world for both business and pleasure. Travel broadens your mind and awareness about other people, cultures and ways of life. To become a Citizen of the World, you have to see and experience other parts of the world for yourself.
When people ask you, “What do you do for pleasure, for fun?”, have a good answer to give. If someone says to you, “What do you think of that shocking event that happened yesterday in New York?”, have a response that indicates you are aware of what is going on in the world.
Yes, I recognize that many of you may not watch TV news programs nor read newspapers or news magazines. You probably are getting most of your news through various sources on the Internet, such as the blogs of friends, chatrooms, sites that aggregate the news (e.g., www.news.google.com, www.Daylife.com), feeds on social-networking sites (e.g., www.FaceBook.com, www.YouTube.com, www.Twitter.com), collaborative news sites (e.g., www.Digg.com) and applications on your mobile phone. This qualifies you as a member of the "post-media generation". By now, some of you may have even been able to set up your own programmed individual news page on the Internet with stories being posted on a 24-hour basis from around the globe covering those topics you are most interested in. Go for it.
Regardless of how you get your news, stay plugged in to what is going on in your community, city, region, country and the world. Keep your antenna up and revolving. Pay attention to what is happening in politics, government, the environment and human rights. Make the extra effort required to obtain different perspectives and informed commentary on the most important current issues to help you put things in their proper context. Do not get lazy and let your thinking become polarized and rigid. In short, be an interested individual for the rest of your life.

Education Smarts
To get the most from any post-secondary educational experience, here are five basic principles to follow:
  • Keep in mind that what you get out of any educational experience in terms of benefit is 100% directly related to what you put into it effort-wise.
  • Select your classes, courses and seminars based more on who is the most highly regarded teacher, professor or speaker than on the subject being covered.
  • Sit as close to the front of the auditorium or classroom as possible. This always greatly improves your ability to pay attention and absorb what is being said by the speaker.
  • Help those who are struggling. You never know when you may need help also.
  • Make an effort to become friends with the brightest people in your class or program. You will learn more by doing so as some of their “smarts” will likely rub off on you.
In university, there are a number of major benefits to majoring in “the humanities” even though they may not lead directly to a job. As the New York Times columnist David Brooks pointed out, studying the humanities greatly strengthens your ability to think, read and write clearly, to gain a familiarity with the language of emotion, and to have a better understanding of human behavior. It also enables you to have a more comprehensive perspective of what is going on in the world and in different cultures, religions and the arts. All of these things will give you a significant advantage in the workplace over those who never took any liberal arts courses. In my undergraduate studies at Stanford University, I majored in history.

 

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