You Are Your Knowledge
By: Oana Niculae
“Own only what you can always carry with you: know languages, know countries, know people. Let your memory be your travel bag.”
~ Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Russian novelist, Nobel Prize for Literature (1970)
When we were very young, perhaps eight and eleven years old, my father summoned me and my younger sister to the table. He told us that only what we carried in our heads mattered.
“How come?” my little sister knocked gently on her head covered in chestnut curls, “you mean here?”
“Yes,” Dad smiled. “That is truly who you are and no one can take that away from you. Knowledge stays with you forever. It is who you are.”
Back then we disagreed with our father simply because we wanted nail polish and a new bike.
I think someone told me once that kids can handle whatever you want them to handle. As cruel as it sounds, there is a little bit of truth in here. We learned at a very early age that things could be taken away from you.
My sister and I knew that we were allowed to occupy only a very small part of our own home and that we were not supposed to talk to the people who “rented” the rest of the house. We did not know why we lived in the kitchen. We would learn later in life that the Communist Party believed we owned too big of a house and allowed my family to stay in only two rooms. My parents ended up living in what used to be the kitchen, while the rest of the house was divided between carefully selected “renters”, most of them were informers. My sister and I used to watch them from behind the kitchen window. They usually ignored us and behaved as if they owned the place, but sometimes they looked at us with hatred and even spat at us.
For some reason this is the strongest image I carry with me whenever I think of my first years at home. I see the faces of the people who took our home.
Although our parents and teachers encouraged us to learn as much as we could, growing up we had a sense of helplessness since we felt no progressive future in sight. Everything around us was grey and dying. There was nothing but poverty and depression.
Trust me, I’ve seen poverty that most people here in the United States watch on TV and think it’s good fiction.
As students, we saw no usefulness in learning languages since we were not allowed to leave the country or to talk to foreigners.
We laughed at adults and made faces behind their backs. My sister and I captured the essence of that reality in one simple word: bullshit.
And then something unexpected happened; the Berlin Wall fell down in 1989.
After three attempts, I finally got admitted at a university and then won a five-year scholarship abroad. I could leave the country and expand my horizons!
Even if I could not speak Polish when I moved to Poland on a scholarship, I knew other languages so learning a fifth one was not an issue.
One of the most important gifts my education gave me was the fact that I “traveled” outside my culture. Understanding other languages and other cultures is crucial especially in a multi-cultural, multi-racial society like ours.
Unfortunately, we can tell that not many understand the value of education just by looking at our society as a whole. It is hardly a happy place. It is plagued by all sorts of discrimination and crimes, for which we blame “the other”. The result? We all suffer.
Sometimes I meet people from Europe and elsewhere who have been in the United States for ten to fifteen years and cannot speak proper English. I see people who are born here and have expectations lower than the poorest immigrant. I am not afraid to say that I find it hard to respect them. Clearly they do not wish to succeed. Clearly they expect society and other people to cater to their needs.
What bothers me most is the fact that they complain all the time. They always find someone else responsible for their failure and their lack of movement. It’s the country. It’s the neighbors. It’s the neighbor’s dog.
I see people, especially young people, who blame their situation — be it poverty or other sort of unwanted predicament – and find excuses not to go to school. They do not see the importance of education because they are mesmerized by material goods they cannot have.
What prevents you from getting what you want? If I can do it, what’s your excuse? Is it YOU getting in your own way? Nowadays even with all the issues we’re facing as a society there is help. Have you tried and no one was willing to help? Have you done your homework and all the doors closed in front of you?
As someone who has struggled to get her education, I know that there are plenty of opportunities for anyone willing to learn and better themselves.
“You are your knowledge,” as my father used to say. Think of it this way, if someone were to take away from you everything you own today, what are your skills?
In this shaky economy many people ended up very poor, not only because of the job market but because they were not flexible enough. In other words, they did not have skills and knowledge to rely on.
The main thing we have to do on a personal level is to own mistakes and stop finding excuses and stop blaming others for our failures!
Confucius said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Why don’t you start today with making a first step towards getting educated?
Knowledge is yours to keep. Whatever happens is a treasure that no one can take from you.
Opportunities will eventually come into your life, but are you ready? When the time comes do you have what it takes to pursue them?
You have no excuse. You live in a country that offers many opportunities.
Looking back, I see how important my father’s teachings were. Actually, I wouldn’t be here, thousands of miles away from my home, my language, my comfort, and now writing.
We all travel through life.
It is up to you to decide if you want to travel in the over packed wagon of poverty and ignorance or pursue a comfortable, more pleasurable and enlightening ride.
You can reach Oana at email@example.com