This was the slogan of a marketing campaign in the 1980s commissioned by the UNCF in the US. The objective of the campaign was to raise funds to help African Americans go to college, I found the ads quite impactful and the slogan, spoken in a low, grave voice has stuck with me for a long time.
Growing up as teenager, I had all the distractions one could wish for, from old-school video games, to friends, girlfriends, part-time jobs, hanging out at the mall, you name it. I was a good student and whenever I seemed to stray too far away from school work, “a mind is a terrible thing to waste” would be quietly whispered in my ear by my nagging conscience. So I would focus and do some work and continue to balance my social and school lives and throughout this process, I learned some great habits that continue to help me feed my mind.
I caught the bus a few days ago and I love doing this as it is a great time for me to read a book. Walking on, I could not help but notice every single person with their eyes glued to their mobile phones. They could have been on social media, watching sport, reading the news or playing a game.
Some scrolled very fast, tapping indiscriminately, I assume “Liking” posts (yet to understand if this is for the benefit of the recipient or the giver), others stared blankly, many chuckled. All eyes were transfixed on the screen.
I heard the whisper. “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” I wanted to yell it out. But who am I to judge what they are all doing? And for all I know, they could have been doing something really important, something really interesting, something that will help them achieve their goals for that day, week, month, year, life.
I cannot judge but I can wonder.
What was the last non-fiction book they read?
What was the last topic they knew nothing about and they are now really looking into it? And not by relying on Google or Wikipedia!
When was the last time they went to a museum?
When was the last time they watched a documentary?
When was the last time they had a debate with someone, one infused with logic and not emotion?
When was the last time they had to concentrate, really hard in solving a problem?
When was the last time they really challenged their minds?
And so on, the list of questions is endless really.
I answered the questions above and I had some wins and a few too many losses. So I extended this experiment and asked five people I know the same questions and I got a few “ahhhhs”, a few excuses and a bit of defensiveness. But after a few minutes, it was one of those “you are probably right. I will start doing X.”
Doing any of the above or anything else in which you are learning helps our minds, keeps us young, sane, intelligent and happy. Yes, happy. “Keep learning” is one of the key foundations to happiness.
“A mind is a terrible thing to waste” but the good news is that we know what to do.