Why Do We Learn?

Nature transcends all cultures, religions, and beliefs. It exists in all communities, one of a few constants in a world that focuses on its differences. Indeed, in studying the environmental sciences, one is given an advantage that few people are privileged to have; fluency in a universal language.

Such was the case with Daron Collins, current President of the College of the Atlantic. In his ten years with the World Wildlife Federation (WWF), his work took him to the reaches of the globe, connecting not only with animals, but with people. As he himself put it, “Environmental problems are rarely technological problems, they’re mostly social.” We live in Chicago, a place considered to be a ‘global city’. What frame of reference do we have to stake claim to this descriptor? No, the world is not ‘mine’, it is ‘ours’ – humans, sharing it with the rest of nature. During his time in northeast Mongolia, Collins realized this. Working in multiple Mongolian villages to help save the taimen – a six foot long, 300 pound behemoth of a fish – he developed friendships with the locals, learned their culture, and in the end, preserved the delicate relationship between the people and their environment. The taimen is a bond he will always share with the Mongolian villagers. As Collins stated, “The world is not divided into silos, the real world is a blend of all different perspectives.” We will never share the same ideas or languages with everyone – however, the connection between man and nature has a ubiquitous presence in our world. Gaining understanding and learning about our environment – that is truly powerful.

So why learn? And more specifically, why focus on the environment? Collins left us with several thoughts that examine this seemingly simple question. “We learn by doing. We learn about issues in context…We learn because we want the world to be better.” Indeed, the world of tomorrow runs through the world of today; the world of today runs through our environment. To some, learning may seem like a chore. In response to that, Collins says, “The world is about putting yourself in uncomfortable places.” For those who have discovered the true beauty of knowledge, and the doors it opens, the world is their oyster. Go out and study that oyster, with people alike and different – now that is truly a global experience.

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