Benjamin Franklin was a Founding Father of the USA, he was brilliant individual who tinkered, invented, was well-read, and philosophized a lot. He was also known for writing a lot of thought-provoking, reflective letters. In one particular letter, he popularized a saying about the certainties of life that is heavily quoted this time [tax season] of the year: “… in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Let’s examine these certainties a bit further.

“Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” – Benjamin Franklin in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, 1789

It is that time of the year again; tax season is upon us and the IRS is waiting for you. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) of the USA is a powerful government agency. If you do not pay your taxes, there will be heavy consequences, like fines and possibly jail time. I do not know about you, but I am no recalcitrant when it comes to doing my taxes. I cannot offer you any advice on how to do your taxes. I can only recommend hiring a professional or using a proven tax software to alleviate the mental taxation, anxiety, and worry brought on by doing your taxes.

Tax evasion is a serious offense. After all, the federal government used tax evasion to build a case against Al Capone and sentenced him to 11 years for not paying his income tax. For those of you who don’t know, Al Capone was an American gangster, notorious criminal, murderer, and quintessential Italian mobster. As a crime lord who often times would use bribery and intimidation to avoid conviction, he once got away with murder. Despite getting away with murder, Capone could not escape the consequences of not paying Uncle Sam. It’s safe to say that paying taxes is unavoidable.

The Mugshot of Al Capone when he was convicted of tax evasion on October 17, 1931. Source: The New York Times

What is there to say about the certainty of death? There’s no explanation to death’s inevitability You live, you die. It’s that simple. You are free to believe in whatever you want when it comes to death, but that does not change the fact that you’re alive now. Make the most of your life, live out your vision, and don’t be afraid to dream big. It’s that simple.  

Now I’m not saying Benjamin Franklin is wrong in calling out his two certainties, but I feel that it is an incomplete list. I would amend Benjamin Franklin’s certainties by adding a third one of my own. I firmly believe that you should always be learning. Life is a journey, and every new day is an opportunity to learn something new, and garnering knowledge can come from anywhere. You can learn a new trade through online videos, you can learn a new fact about history from an article, you can learn a new life lesson while volunteering, or you can learn something new about your personality while playing in your recreational softball league.

Two types of knowledge

There are two types of knowledge: Objective knowledge and Subjective knowledge. Classroom.Synonym.com defines the two types of knowledge as such:

Objective knowledge consists of things that can be observed or reproduced, or is made up of hard facts that come from consensus built over time. Subjective knowledge is realm of personal perspective and belief.”  

 

Here are some examples:
Objective knowledge: Your weather app (or thermometer) is saying that it’s 89°F outside
Subjective knowledge: Your friend saying it’s too hot to wear a sweater.

Today, objective knowledge about anything is abundantly accessible thanks to the internet and our ever-increasing access to information. If you’re interested in a particular subject matter, then you’re ability to learn something is only affected by your dedication and asking the right questions (this is assuming that you start your internet quest for knowledge on a search engine, like I do). Once you understand how to effectively trudge through the noise and various resources at your disposal, you can unlock the treasure chest of objective knowledge the internet has to offer. You can literally verbalize the question into your phone and receive an answer in a matter of seconds. Instant gratification satisfied.

Subjective knowledge is a little bit more difficult to obtain because there’s a retrospective component to it. Understanding a situation from your personal experience, what you enjoyed about it, what you despised about it, how the situation made you feel, etc. Gathering subjective knowledge is a skill; you have to train your brain to be mindful of situations that you want to remember for later. The caveat to reflection is that if you don’t write it down, you will forget about it. That’s where strategies like journaling will help you retain your personal recollections about your life events.

Knowledge is not power

Gathering objective or subjective knowledge is arguably the easy part. The more difficult task is applying whatever it is you have learned. Tony Robbins, the famous life coach and successful author of best-selling self-help books, has quoted in his books that “Knowledge is not power. Knowledge is potential power. Action is power.”

Collecting knowledge is the first step towards learning something new. In order for your new information to stick with you, you need to apply it in your everyday life. Here’s a simple example. Each meeting in Toastmasters (an educational club geared towards improving communication, public speaking and leadership), we are provided with a “Word of the day.” One of the recent words I learned was “recalcitrant,” which appears in the second paragraph of this post. If I don’t apply it in everyday use, my brain will forget the word ever existed and I will revert back to a word or phrase that expresses the same thing.

re·cal·ci·trant
/rəˈkalsətrənt/
adjective: having an obstinately uncooperative attitude toward authority or discipline.
noun: a person with an obstinately uncooperative attitude.
The same rule applies when it involves subjective knowledge. For example, you are appalled  after giving a terrible, unprepared presentation to your colleagues. Recording how that blundered presentation made you feel sick to your stomach is the first step to learning something knew about yourself. In order to make that experience worth the discomfort, it’s imperative that you improve upon the areas that went awry. Then, when the opportunity arises, you execute a stellar, impressive performance.

Why you should be learning

To me, learning keeps life exciting. Whether you are a bookworm, a cyber explorer, or an introspective guru, there are almost limitless ways to learn something new. I find that whenever I learn something new, I want to share it with people, sometimes I share my newly acquired knowledge with the internet. This conversation can forge, mend, repair, or strengthen my existing relationships with others in my life. Objective knowledge can be used tactically as an icebreaker during a network event, and subjective knowledge can be used to relate to others’ experiences or give advice. I believe that knowledge can be helpful in improving the quality of interactions with others.

At the end of the day, it’s impossible to know everything. Even if you tried, you won’t. Whenever I am not learning anything new or applying lessons I have learned, I am overcome with a feeling of stagnation. I abhor the idea of being stagnant. It’s boring, it’s terrifying, and I would argue, it’s unhealthy. I will be stagnant when I die, which is most certainly coming, it’s just a matter of when.

Learning is my way of combating stagnation. Maybe I don’t know how to relax, but even if I’m on a beach enjoying the sun, sand and sounds, I’m contemplating life lessons that I can grab from my own experiences. As long as I am alive, I will most certainly keep learning new bits of information, share it with others, and apply my learned knowledge wherever it fits.

Readers, what are your favorite ways to learn new things?