“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” – Proverb
I’d be willing to take the idea of this proverb one step further. An idea is a form of currency that does not require giving something up to get something. Two people can exchange two ideas and they can both end up richer, as in addition to the benefits from each individual idea they accumulate (knowledge compounds over time), they can improve on ideas and make them even better. Not only does this benefit the individual but also society as shared ideas can be applied to benefit all of mankind.
As Sir Isaac Newton once said – “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”. It isn’t necessary to reinvent the wheel at all – by simply assimilating the best of what other people have already figured out, one can gain a tremendous edge in life, a revelation so profound that Charlie Munger has built his life around the acquisition of worldly wisdom in a vicarious manner. The eminent dead – Graham, Franklin, Einstein, Newton, Darwin, Seneca, Aristotle, Socrates and so many others have been immortalized through their books and articles, and by reading their life’s work they speak to us across the chasm of history: teaching, guiding and inspiring us to follow in their footsteps.
Nature can also be a fantastic teacher, and has served to instruct humanity throughout history. The field of Biomimetics for example, involves imitating and adapting models from nature in order to solve human problems. An early example would be Leonardo da Vinci’s model for a flying machine, in which he mentions bats, kites and birds as sources of inspiration.
Today scientists are applying nature’s models to solve problems in engineering, materials science, medicine, and other fields (See this fantastic Nat-Geo article). Millions of years of evolution are nature’s way of adapting to be very good at performing specific functions, and if we can harness that – we can improve on just about anything.
From the cradle to the grave, our minds have been endowed with the ability to be the ultimate learning machines, and just about anything or anyone can be fulfill the role of a teacher in better understanding the world and ourselves. Our potential for greatness as a species is limited only by the size of our dreams and the thirst for knowledge. Yet society grossly undervalues the role of good teachers despite as Henry Brook Adams puts it “Teachers affect eternity; no one can tell where their influence stops”. We can change that by showing our deepest respect and gratitude for anyone willing to share their knowledge and wisdom. So to every teacher that has shaped me to who I am today, I express a heartfelt thanks.