“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela. Whether it is organized, formalized learning or a personal pursuit for enlightenment, why would anyone regard education as the triumph over fear? And yet, it is exactly that; courage. It is reaching out of the darkness towards an uncertain distant light ahead. It could be the light at the end of a dark tunnel or the twin headlights of an oncoming truck that could crush and maim. Yet it is illumination nonetheless. A process of developing superpowers of reasoning to finally realize that there is no impossible. Empowering the mind and freeing the soul. That light bulb moment.
Education creates five kinds of people in this world; the politicians, activists, visionaries, technocrats and the group I like to call the ‘commentator-analysts’. To be true to each category requires a self-assurance that only comes from having been schooled. Each has to overcome set limitations and achieve the unthinkable. From the time of the Egyptian hieroglyphics to medieval monastic schools to present day institutions of instruction, education continues to re-invent itself, pushing the frontiers of human knowledge and awareness. Testing the limits and declaring that there are no boundaries.
Education gives us revolutionaries for every generation to champion the cause of the oppressed masses. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, also known as Mahatma Gandhi, were both trained lawyers. They both became political leaders and used non-violent civil disobedience to dismantle apartheid in South Africa and lead India to independence respectively. I call them the diplomatic warriors.
Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani activist for girl education and co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, resolutely keeps speaking up for governments to invest more in educating girls. This is despite being banned from school by the local Taliban, death threats and assassination attempts. Malala was bold enough to speak up for over 200 Chibok girls abducted from their school in Nigeria. And she is still speaking and the world is finally listening.
Thomas Edison, inventor of the first commercially practical incandescent electric bulb and founder of General Electric; Warren Buffet, the most successful investor of the 20th century and Peter Thiel, co-founder of Paypal, all have one thing in common: they were masters of their trade. However, not all technocrats have means or are borne into upper class families. It could be Fatu Kekula, a poor Liberian nurse, who nursed four of her family members with Ebola, wearing nothing but trash bags and rubber boots. With no access to experimental drugs or fancy equipment, all she had was a basic understanding of barrier nursing and replacement fluids. It was enough. They all perfected their art. They silenced the voices within and without. Today, they are technocrats. Role models of what it means to persevere and overcome.
Some might object, saying that the Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerbergs and Elizabeth Holmes of this world were college dropouts and yet went on to become self-made billionaires, influencing lives and revolutionizing the way we live our lives today. However, that is not the full story. For most mad geniuses, history has shown, the classroom is not their favoured place of learning, rather it is their playground. It is not group instruction, but exploration of inconceivable notions and ideas that allow these visionaries to create unprecedented solutions to problems no one was even thinking about. They are the trail blazers who forge ahead, undaunted and unstoppable, beating all the odds.
Then there are people like us, the commentator-analysts. The ones who with enlightenment, have finally found our voice, and we definitely are not afraid to use it. We talk non-stop whether anyone is listening or not. We are on the radio, the talk shows, the blogosphere, and the chat rooms, everywhere. We speak tolerance, truth, justice and equality. Perhaps, that is why Henry Brougham said, “Education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern but impossible to enslave.”
So therefore, education means more than accumulating knowledge or certificates. It is being well-studied and coming into a place where there are opportunities to serve humanity. It means breaking free from the norms, and letting go of impossibilities, because knowledge empowers and emboldens. It is that light bulb moment.