To learn means to understand more information than we already know. To understand more information than we already know means we don’t know things, we need to find new information, and we need to accept new information. These are difficult, to the point of pain.
Pain is physical suffering, or discomfort. Learning is uncomfortable. To be comfortable is to be content. To be content with our current knowledge and understanding of the world is to be comfortable. To seek more knowledge, and deeper understanding of the world, requires discontentment with what we already know. It requires us to venture out into the unknown, and challenge what we know. Learning can induce physical suffering.
Reading a fact isn’t necessarily learning, even if we never heard the fact before. To learn means to understand, and to welcome an idea into your worldview. To do that, the idea must necessarily challenge the existing ideas that are in your head. To challenge existing ideas is to challenge our beliefs and our understanding of how the world works. We cannot challenge our understanding of how the world works without being uncomfortable. New information may change our understanding of how the world works. To learn requires us to be open to us being wrong about how the world works.
While the stoic promotes contentment in all aspects of life, mental challenge and understanding is the exception. Truth is held in regard as a high virtue by nearly all moral philosophers. It is only when we understand the world that we can make sense of it. When we understand the world, we can approach the challenges in life with courage and with the tools to best handle those challenges. We learn so that we gain the tools to handle these challenges, and so we can have the courage to act and overcome the challenge.
Society in 2018 promotes comfort. We are told we deserve comfort. We are not allowed to offend, because others are entitled to not be offended. But what if people are wrong? If people are wrong and are living in a world where their ideas are damaging – to themselves or others, then those ideas will manifest in behavior if they aren’t stopped or impeded by new information. Learning is key to defeating damaging and dangerous ideas. To promote learning ideas, we must promote the discomfort that comes with learning. It is part of the necessary process.
Without learning new things, people will be unprepared for the world. If they do not learn so that they are not offended, they will surely be offended when they see competing ideas manifest in real life. What if the socialist wants to see her ideas play out in American economics? To not socialize institutions is to go against what she believes is the ideal. She was never told that she had an unrealistic ideal – one that has been well-documented across many fields of study (economics, history, psychology). Should we let her ideal economic strategy manifest itself in the world? Maybe – at least she wouldn’t be offended and uncomfortable.
But what if that comes at the expense of a capitalist? The capitalist believes his economic worldview is correct. He may be offended if we choose to go with the socialist, planned economy because that economic system wouldn’t offend a girl who isn’t prepared for the world because her ideas have never been challenged. This doesn’t work. Ideas manifest in behavior, and ideas should be challenged so that the best ideas manifest. If the best idea doesn’t manifest, there are still benefits to challenging all ideas. The benefits – the chance that bad ideas won’t manifest in reality, will only come to fruition if people are open-minded to new ideas, which necessarily challenge the existing worldview, which is necessarily uncomfortable. Which is necessarily painful.
Something is painful when it makes us uncomfortable. Learning makes us uncomfortable because we must challenge what is known and comfortable in order to learn. Learning is painful.