THE BLOG

We'll All Be Better Off

10/31/2012 03:30 pm ET | Updated Dec 31, 2012

Most of us, including those we seek out for counsel and opinion, ended our most influential and substantial learning experience at age 22. Scary, right? That's the last time we rubbed elbows with those curmudgeonly folks (a.k.a. professors) who connected us with the then-current, data-supported understanding that made up what we called "knowledge." But that was then.

Yes, you keep learning, but I've observed this much. If we all returned to school for a year every 10 years, our discussions would be more reasonable and informed, we'd definitely get along better, and ultimately the world would be a much better place.

I'm a college professor, a profession that allows me a sabbatical every seven years. I get a chance to do scholarly work and to renew my curiosity and learning. A big part of my job description is to continue reading and learning and it's difficult for me to keep up within my very narrow academic discipline, which makes a sabbatical so useful and important.

For you, however, in spite of your efforts to stay up to date you will probably never again have the time to invest in the rich kind of education that comes from proximity to people on the cutting-edge of their academic disciplines.

When you leave college, you begin to lose your grip on your ability to stay current. It's a fact of life. If we could go back to higher study, the benefits for going back would be immeasurable. The problem here, as we move through our lives, is twofold: we don't think enough and we don't think hard enough. If we did, we would know how little we know. Obviously, "every-10-years-college" is impractical but it would encourage you to think more and to think harder -- and to help you recognize how little you know and, maybe, get you to calm down a little and listen.

I don't know that much either. But I know how little I know. I'm at the end of the baby-boomer generation. I graduated from college in 1980. Most of the baby-boomers have been out of college for at least 32 years. Thirty-two years. Think about that.

Let's see how much we know by discussing topics that are often linked to calm, reasoned discussion -- politics and sports. Politics first.

1. True or False: If you increase the income taxes of people who are wealthy, they will lose their incentive to work.

2. True of False: 47 percent of U.S. citizens expect and want handouts from the federal government.

These are both "false," which can be shown to be false from a variety of academic vantage points. I cover prevailing theories of motivation in a course I teach on organizational behavior. We are motivated to work by more things than just money. As for No. 2, there is no theory of motivation that suggests that people are motivated by accepting things they haven't earned. In fact, the opposite is true. People are motivated by challenges and the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution.

Let's say these questions don't grab you because you're really just into sports. Try these (each comes from a nifty book by Tobias J. Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim that applies data analysis to sports, called "Scorecasting"):

1. True or False: Defense wins championships.

2. True or False: The main cause of home field advantage in sports is because it is more difficult for away players to be at their best on the road.

3. True or False: There is such a thing as a "hot hand" in basketball. That is when a player has made several shots in a row (has a "hot hand") she is more likely to make her next shot.

These are all "false," too. A team is just as inclined to win a championship with a good offense as it is with just a good defense. Home field advantage for teams is driven largely by officials' calls that favor the home team. The chances of a player making a basketball shot has much to do with the shooter's overall shooting percentage and not so much to do with her last several shots.

If you are conservative, Republican, or any other similar label, rather than thinking that all liberals are out to get your money, think more and think harder. It's not true and it's not that simple. If you lean more to the left, avoid thinking that all the folks on the right want all the money for themselves and couldn't care less if the less-advantaged starve and die in the streets. That's not true either and it's much too simple a view.

One important convention in a functioning democracy is an educated voting public. If that education stops at age 22, then we have a problem.

Seek to know more. Think. Listen. Get out and talk to people who aren't necessarily like you. Dig in. Read something that is buoyed by the prevailing science of the day, of that discipline; and is supported by data. A quick Google search is not good data.

Why are you still here? Get to work. Go. Listen. Read. Think. We'll all be better off.