I attended a very strange and interesting event recently — the HATCH conference — up in the mountains of Montana. The first few days consisted of what I’d loosely call ‘drinks and networking time’ with a group of about 100 very impressive people, and the latter few days were a more formal ‘presentation and workshop’ sort of setup.
On the way down from the mountain, the road was blocked by a large clan of goats, though I remember at the time trying to figure out if they were ‘goats,’ ‘rams,’ ‘some kind of sheep,’ or ‘strange, horned horses’ so that I could accurately portray the situation to readers in retrospect.
I didn’t figure out the specifics, and frankly it’s not important that I ever do.
I spend a good deal of my time pursuing knowledge — hours a day spent reading, a goodly portion of my time invested meeting and interacting with interesting people, and the rest loosely engaged in ‘personal development’-oriented activities, like attending conferences and writing books — enough that I understand the difference between ‘things I need to know’ and ‘things that would be nice to know, but aren’t pertinent to my enjoyment of life.’
The former category is made up of health- and safety-related issues, knowledge related to my chosen professions, and fundamental information, like the alphabet and how to boil water.
The latter category is everything else. And though it’s much larger and more scattered, and though I tend to derive more satisfaction, on average, from knowledge gleaned from this ostensibly nonessential group, I like that the information it holds is optional. Something I can pick up when I want and leave alone when I don’t.
I can enjoy a painting without knowing anything about the artist. I can derive great pleasure from food without grasping even the fundaments of spice. Seeing some kind of goat-creature can bring a smile to my face without my needing to know what they are, where they come from, and how they differ from others of their kind.
I like that this vast swath of worldly information is optional because then my pursuing it is a pleasure, rather than a responsibility. I potentially gain more from paintings and food and animals when I understand them better, but approached this way, the pursuit itself becomes a joy, as well as the information itself.
Now that I’m oldish, the concept of school seems like such a luxury. Going to a place where people will teach me things, and my only lot in life is to do my earnest best to learn them? Incredible!
When I was younger, however, it seemed like such a chore. I was required to be there, and I was required to learn, and as a result, the learning seemed like some kind of punishment. A task performed without pleasure because it was assigned the same way.
Today, though, it’s different. Today, I love the thrill of the chase, pursuing knowledge because I can and because I want to.
Today, I can appreciate goat-things or ‘ovis canadensis’ with equal gusto, and I can do so because I’m not required to do either.