Learning By Heart

phil_joy-of-learningLifelong learning requires one to develop the joy of learning itself. I am trying to think of how I cultivated it. Was I immersed in books as a child? No. I was in a vocational school run by Catholics priests of the Selesian order of Don Bosco. And during the long summer holidays I had to look after cows, chase monkeys and fetch water. Did those priests have a spell on me? No. I was a little devil who was fond of Clint Eastwood, Dharmendra and Bruce Lee. Meaning I often bunked classes and sneaked in and out of the boarding school to visit Norgay cinema. Do I have my parent’s influence? No. Both of them were illiterate. So then how?

I think there are two explanations – My student life in Italy and Learning by Heart.

Italian education – I got my first degree in Italy (Bologna). I did engineering – majoring in microelectronics. In Italy, there is no such thing as rote learning. Meaning you don’t have to reproduce ad verbatim what you have been taught. The exam system is lot tougher. It is based on the open-book concept. So everything has to be understood well because you are tested for full comprehension and application of the subject or the topic. You have to go beyond the lecture notes and text books. You have to consult tons and ton of other materials. Library was my “favourite” place. When you do that you are inevitably exposed to many things and you develop the habit of knowledge acquisition and a taste for it.  Grazie, Italia!

Learning by Heart – Everyone is familiar with this term by heart, which actually means memorising. Memorising requires an organ called brain and not the other organ – heart. So then why do we say “by heart” when it should be “by brain”. Then, how did this phrase come about? Well here is what I have found out and the connection to my own anecdotal evidence.

Memorising requires you to remember things. The latin word for remember is recor, which is made up of two words: re – recollect, and cor – heart; recollect from the heart. Recollect from the heart? Yes. The genesis of this word takes us to the Romans and Greeks who thought that the heart was the seat of intelligence and memory, as well as emotion. And hence the phrase – learn “by heart”. Now one may asks, “were they wrong?” They can’t be. Let me attempt to break it down for you.

To have a heart means you have emotions, empathy, passion etc. I am not saying that if you have them you are a great learner. Just as we can’t say that every person with a big lung can win the Olympic marathon. But you need a big lung to be a long-distance runner. So a good heart is a great starting point because, as I was saying, it makes you empathetic and passionate by nature. In being so, you develop another subliminal quality – open-mindedness, simply because you have an open heart. A cruel person is often very narrow-minded, right? As an open-minded (read as open-hearted) person you do not discriminate people but you will instead  embrace all of them. You will not be biased or prejudiced in your thinking. You will find a value in every person that you meet. You learn from everything, every time and just just everybody. You soon develop the so-called joy of learning.

einsteinAt Yale University in the US, which I have had the fortune of visiting thanks to two good friends who work there, they have developed what they call emotional intelligence. Scientists there have found out that if you learn using your heart you learn more and your rate of success is better. Learning by heart, thus, has not been wrong all along. Except that it was WE who didn’t get it right. Just “memorising” per se has no use as Einstein once famously said, “I don’t remember things that I can find elsewhere”. He was derided by a student for not remembering the speed of sound.

To conclude, I think I developed the joy of learning by learning “by heart”. By developing my passion, being passionate and practicing empathy. Lifelong learning has procured me vast amount of knowledge, exposure, friendships, goodwill and opportunities. It has become a way of life. The open-mindedness in me has allowed me to seamlessly move from microelectronics to media to moviemaking to mass communication studies.



One thought on “Learning By Heart

  1. wow..nice write-up with admirable words la. Yes that is true, it is so difficult to be a lifelong learner. To achieved that we have to overcome all challenges in the way. At least you are doing good to achieved that mission. I knw you have potential and capability to achieved your goal. Happy to read your blog always and please keep on updating as you are doing la. Thank you sir


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