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Monday, December 30, 2013

"Time Traveling” Through the Vastness of Knowledge and Human Understanding

What paths have your traveled in your life? Do you possess the time to travel down many more? Or is your time consumed with mediocre travails? And ... why do you travel down the path of knowledge? Also, is it right to seek knowledge not for power, vanity, or to assist others, but rather for the sake of knowledge itself? These are questions I pose for you consideration today ... I don't profess to possess all of the answers to these questions, but I do offer my own insights herein.

I’ve traveled down many diverse paths over the course of my life of 55 years. Sometimes these paths terminated, forcing me to retreat and start anew. Yet, I rejoice in each path taken, for it made me whom I am today; there are few regrets. On occasion I have failed. And yet, I learned important lessons from such failures. And I have had moments of success (and I hope for many more to come).

Each person defines “success” differently. Indeed, “success” means different things depending upon the context. For me, success perhaps means two main concepts, as it relates to my life. First, I seek to positively impact the lives of others in meaningful ways. I venture that this is a common view of “life’s purpose” or “life’s meaning.”

Second, I seek to achieve illumination – knowledge, wisdom and key insights – in so many areas. In some of these areas I believe I have largely mastered the body of knowledge (although keeping up with new developments and insights is an ongoing process). But in many other areas – such as philosophy, economics, history and cosmology – I will never come close to mastering the available body of knowledge. For in these areas the boundaries of knowledge are both vast and ever-expanding. But this realization does not temper my desire to learn and explore.

To what end will such illumination serve? In many areas, such as financial planning, investments, and law, the mastery of knowledge serves a very practical purpose – the application of that body of knowledge to assist my clients, and to provide quality instruction to my students. But in other areas the acquisition of knowledge has no immediately evident practical purpose … rather, the acquisition of illumination might seem to occur without a specific goal in mind.

A 12th Century French monk, Bernard of Clairvaux, once wrote: There are those who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge; that is Curiosity. There are those who seek knowledge to be known by others; that is Vanity. There are those who seek knowledge in order to serve; that is Love.” Hence, perhaps it is fair to say that I am curious – at least about certain things. Also, that I love people – in the sense of using knowledge for the sake of others. But I hope I have escaped from the clutches of “vanity,” although the mere existence of this blog might make some suspect otherwise.

But, in a sense, when I am "curious" I seek more than knowledge. I seek real understanding of the concepts – of the meaning behind the words and phrases. And I seek the formation of connections – i.e., taking somewhat disparate concepts and finding ways in which they may relate. This is perhaps what I mean by “illumination” – which is far from the religious attributes typically ascribed to the word.

Of course, achieving knowledge, wisdom and insights takes time. I’m often asked, where do you find the time for such pursuits, on top of everything else you do?

Well, I must first observe my own children are now grown.  I don’t believe such pursuits would be possible if I were to possess young children, for the care of them becomes a much more important focus.

Even then, many would say that I seem to possess a large amount of time others do not. While I suspect there are many reasons that I do use my available time more effectively than others, perhaps the single greatest one is this – I seldom watch television.

That’s not to say I never watch television. I will watch the occasional Florida Gators football or basketball game, the Super Bowl (sometimes), and a few other select sporting events. Shows on science and history I find interesting, and select news shows (not the "talking heads" shows of pundits who seldom possess true insight). And, on occasion, I’ll select a good old movie to chill to. But ask me to recite the plot of a recent t.v. show (or even its name), and I would likely have no clue.

Am I missing out on something by missing the ability to scroll several hundred channels each night? Perhaps. There is, of course, some good drama, and some good comedy, on television. But, I suspect I am not missing all that much, from a cost-benefit analytical perspective, given the very time-consuming nature of the medium. Over the years I have counseled hundreds of senior citizens, and inquired of them as to their regrets in life. I have never had a single one ever say to me something like: “I wished I watched more television;” or “I wish I had not missed that episode.”

If we really look at all of the things that are precious in life, what we find is that our most precious item is time.

I use my time to explore the depths of relationships with my family and friends. I use my time to seek achieve mastery of certain skills and a knowledge of certain subjects, and to use those skills to help another (or many others, as opportunities present themselves).

I also use my time to journey into the realm of concepts I do not yet know … not for any evident grand purpose, but rather for the self-fulfillment resulting from realizations of truths both large and small. For the sake of deriving “pleasure,” as Aristotle stated, from knowledge acquired for knowledge’s sake.

Is the pursuit of such "pleasure" - i.e., knowledge for knowledge's sake, greedy? Foolhardy? I think not. Rather, I believe that education is - at least in part - a process of self-fulfillment and self-realization, through the cultivation of knowledge. I believe that a life truly worth living is, in part, a life of inquiry and discovery. For it is through this process of inquiry that we become wise, gleaning personal insights and meanings and connections which would otherwise be beyond our grasp.

In other words, through the pursuit of knowledge, whatever our goal in its pursuit, we become better, as individual persons, to connect the dots in the real world of our lives and our society. We more greatly realize the importance of values, and the principles and tenets which we hold dear. We then utilize these new perspectives for the benefit of others in ways that we had not imagined. In so doing, we contribute to the advancement of society, and we become more emboldened and inclined to both preserve and improve the health of society.

By way of historical perspective, while the causes are always much more complex, some scholars believe that entire civilizations - such as those of Ancient Egypt and Ancient Rome - fall when education focuses only on the practical. Civilizations, they state, fail when the education treasured in such societies shifts - from the purposes of raising the spirit of an individual, maintaining and elevating his or her moral compass, and development of the ability of the minds of men and women to think and advocate critically - to a focus only on the practical.

In truth, there is a balance that must take place. We must undertake lifelong learning for the benefit of ourselves (i.e., our financial security) and those around us (i.e., to improve ourselves so that we may benefit others). But we must also pursue paths of lifelong learning for "learning's sake," as the paths we then pursue may well bring us to destinations never envisioned, and to inner strengths otherwise not otherwise unveiled. Perhaps even new insights that add to society's collective body of knowledge. In so benefiting ourselves, we in turn do benefit our society at large.

What will you do with your limited time on earth? Play video games? Watch television shows (even the point of watching re-runs, over and over?) What is gained from these pursuits, in the end? Will you truly come to rejoice, at some future time, over the time you spent in from of “the tube.”

Or will you join with me, at least figuratively speaking, to use your time more wisely. To become a time traveler though the vastness of what is achievable by human understanding. To acquire knowledge for the sake of assisting (and thereby loving) others. Also, to seek out some knowledge and understanding with no such laudable immediate goal in mind, but rather with a sense that achievement of illumination may lead to pleasures not yet discernable, and through the greater understandings thereby achieved become a more complete and wise person and - through such process - a better citizen, mentor, and guide.

I am a traveler, on many diverse journeys. In so traveling, I value the most precious of all resources, time, and seek to utilize the limited time available to me in ways practical and/or illuminating. Along the way, I am certain I have found much more enjoyment than I would ever achieve seated nine feet from the front of a television. And, as I seek illumination in the days and years remaining to me, I hope such paths, with no clear destination, will empower me to assist others in ways I cannot currently envision.

Professor Ron A. Rhoades, JD, CFP(r) teaches Business Law, Retirement Planning, Investment Planning, Employee Benefits Planning, Money & Banking, Insurance & Risk Management, and the Personal Financial Planning Capstone courses at Alfred State College, Alfred, NY. He is an EPLP Mentor, C.R.E.A.T.E. program mentor, serves as advisor to Alfred State's Business Professionals of America club, and serves as academic advisor to dozens of students.

Professor Rhoades is the author of "CHOOSE TO SUCCEED IN COLLEGE AND IN LIFE: Continuously Improve, Persevere, and Enjoy the Journey," a 10-week program for success in college (available for $2.99 in Kindle store at, or in paperback for $6.99). Professor Rhoades may be reached by e-mail at:

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