• Mark Palmer

Never Stop Learning

Want to know a secret?

It is an almost irresistible offer, isn’t it? It lies at the heart of a great deal of the advertising that surrounds us and is the premise on which a huge number of books, films and TV shows are based. What is a cliffhanger other than the promise that a secret will be revealed in the next episode or chapter?

Behind the power of a secret is the recognition of the value of knowledge. It is always better to have the knowledge to make an informed decision. Indeed, a risk could be defined as making a decision with insufficient knowledge to make an accurate and reliable prediction of the outcome. In my experience, even when a situation is bad, once you know the details of what you are facing you are always in a much better place to respond than when you are guessing and, in my case, always assuming that the very worst possible situation will turn out to be the case!

Sadly, the world we live in has downplayed the value of knowledge and education. The pressure to conform and go with the crowd without thinking for ourselves can be enormous. People that are ill-informed and do not think for themselves are much easier to manipulate and influence. Knowledge really is power.

So many of the problems that arise from a lack of diversity and inclusion are rooted in ignorance and lack of education. We fear the unknown, and if all we know about someone else is that they are different from us in some way, seen or unseen, it is easy to fear them. From this comes prejudice and discrimination.

But when we meet others who are different in some way from ourselves, we inevitably find out that there is far more that unites us than divides us. Where we do differ, it can be a strength, not a barrier.

Think of a sports team. In almost every team game you need a mix of skills in your players, some who are fast and others who are strong, some who are good at attacking and others that excel at defending. If the defence all decide they want nothing to do with the attack because they are different, the team is doomed. If the attack is replaced by more defenders so that the whole team is brilliant at defending and poor at attacking, it will not win many games. The team needs each player to excel in their own area to be successful. The key is often a coach who helps the players to blend their strengths and work together in the best way that they can.

Yet in other areas of life, we automatically assume that different from us is bad. This is where education and knowledge are critical. The good news is that in this digital age, most of us have almost unlimited access to an almost infinite amount of knowledge and information. Instead of having to take what we read in a newspaper or hear from a friend for granted, we all have the means to go and check it for ourselves. Is that what really happened? Is there another agenda at play here? Have I heard the whole story?

The same applies to other people who are different from us. We simply do not have to take the word of others about those who are different from us in one way or another. We can find out for ourselves by researching and best of all, by hearing directly from members of that group. There is just no reason to be ignorant anymore, and it is vital that free access for all to knowledge and information must be protected.

The world would be a much better place if we all thought for ourselves more instead of adopting the views that are fed to us without question. The best way to overcome prejudice and discrimination is education. But as any teacher will tell you, you cannot teach someone who has no wish to learn! So we must all be open to learning, recognising that we need to learn, and to share our own experiences and knowledge with others.

Never stop learning, think for yourself, and always be prepared to have your preconceived ideas challenged. When we all do that, we really can make a huge difference.