by Bryan J. Neva, Sr.
My father, a Korean War veteran, mechanic, machinist, carpenter, electrician, welder, truck driver, inventor, and handyman, is my intellectual hero (he's now 83 years old). He could fix or build anything, and he had an encyclopedic knowledge on many topics such as physics, engineering, religion, history, and geopolitics. He never let his lack of a formal education stand in the way of learning new things. Looking back, he was way underemployed as he could easily have been a college educated mechanical engineer, but life and our family got in the way of his dreams. He's probably one of the smartest people I know, and in my opinion he could go toe to toe with with many people much better educated than he is.
My mom too was very bright and "street smart;" she was entrepreneurial and ran several successful, home-based businesses to supplement our family's income. My mom made up for many of my dad's practical shortcomings. She used to buy me and my brother boxes of old comic books at garage sales for us to read; we'd devour them and beg her to buy us more. (If we'd only saved them, they could have been quite valuable today.) She also worked in an electronics assembly plant for years, and she inspired my older brother and me to eventually become electronics engineers. My older brother went on to earn an advanced degree in engineering. My younger brother and I also went on to earn MBA degrees.
And even though they really couldn't afford it, my parents purchased a set of encyclopedias (on an installment plan) so that my siblings and I would have information available to us in order to learn. (The Internet and Google, had not yet been invented.) When we'd ask a question, my parents would show us how to find the answers in the encyclopedias, so they taught us how to do research and teach ourselves.
We grew up in a very religious home. My parents raised us in a Protestant faith tradition so regularly reading the Bible was a normal part of our lives. When I was around twelve years-old, I read the Biblical book of Proverbs and I was inspired by the lessons the author conveyed about wise living. The proverbial formula goes like this: if you behave wrongly, then bad things will eventually happen to you; but if you behave rightly, then good things will eventually happen to you. Being wise was all about making good choices and right living so you could have a blessed life. I went to my father to discuss this and he showed me in the Bible that wisdom is actually a gift from God to those who ask for it. He told me that all truth is God's truth and it's not found in any one place but in nature, life, books, learning, and in striving to live life rightly. So began my lifelong quest for learning, knowledge, understanding, wisdom, and right living.
Now that I'm older, I look back at my life and realize those were the seeds that fundamentally changed my life's paradigms or how I approached life. I developed a thirst for knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Consequently over my lifetime, I've probably accumulated or read over a thousand books. My wife keeps telling me I should get rid of all my books stored in plastic boxes in our garage, but they're my treasures and I just can't part with them. (If thieves broke into our home to rob us, I wouldn't cry over the stolen electronics or jewelry, but over my treasured books as they're just irreplaceable; but then again, most thieves are too foolish to appreciate their true value and would just leave them alone.)
There's nothing wrong with being ignorant; ignorance only means you don't know something and you need to learn. But there is something wrong with being foolish; foolishness means you don't want to learn and would rather believe lies. Books will help you learn new truths or to change your paradigms on certain topics; understanding and wisdom will help you to think critically in order to separate the wheat from the chaff or separate truth from falsehood. But ultimately they're just empty words if you don't apply them to your everyday life and strive to live a better life.