This question first came to mind while I was reading Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires by Tim Ferriss. In the book, he interviews writer and journalist, Sebastian Junger. Sebastian poses this question to anyone who lives in a modern, first-world country.
It is important for us to at least think about this question on a regular basis, for as Sebastian puts it, “Who would you die for? What ideas would you die for? The answer to those questions, for most of human history, would have come very readily to any person’s mouth…In modern society, it gets more and more complicated (page 423).”
The answer to this question doesn’t come easily for me. Of course I can quickly answer, “who would you die for?” I would die for my family. Who would I die for outside of my family? I suppose that, if necessary, I would die for anyone younger than me. I would sacrifice my life to save a child. Although, this thought brings into question the ethical “age limit” for sacrificing your life. I could go into a philosophical spiral of questions when it comes to dying for other people. So instead, let me try to think about ideas I hold dear.
“What ideas would you die for?” Well if I had to answer Sebastian, I would have to choose only one idea. That idea would be that we should have the freedom to learn. The thought that even today, some people around the world still do not have a decent education or complete access to information truly scares me. I try to imagine a life where I am restricted in what I can learn about, either because of a lack of finances or because of restrictions placed upon me by some religious institution or government.
As an American, I have not really considered how lucky I am when it comes to my education. I never had any restrictions on what I could learn, even though I went through New York City’s public education system. Even today, I am extremely fortunate to have the ability to continue learning. I have constant access to the internet and I am not restricted in what topics I can research.
For someone who grew up with the privilege to be curious, the thought of being restricted on what I can and cannot know also angers me. So I would certainly give my life to defend the idea that everyone should have the freedom to learn anything they want.
The one idea I would sacrifice my life for is my ability to be curious without restrictions. What would you die for? Take a moment today to think about the answer to this. It isn’t often that we encounter a question that helps clarify what is truly important to us.
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