Look It Up

Pay It Forward is one of those kick-you-in-the-chest movies that’s worth seeing at least once, if only because of Kevin Spacey’s character, Mr. Simonet.

My favorite scene with him is during his first introduction to his social studies class:

He uses the word atrophy, and he can see that the kids aren’t picking it up. And he tells them what I think is some of the best movie advice around: “If there’s a word you hear that you don’t understand…look it up.”

His lesson hits home with me. How many times have I read a book or article, gotten to a word that I don’t know, and just shot past it? Way more often than I’d care to admit. (Luckily there’s an app for that.)

And then I think about how many times I hear about an event in history, or a scientific study, or someone quotes from a poem, or a book, and I don’t know the reference. It used to be that I would have had to wait until I get home to do a google search if I wanted to know. But now I can look it up on my phone immediately. And how often do I do that? Less often than I’d care to admit.

With the available knowledge all around me, it’s easy to rely on the fact that I can look it up if I need to. It’s way more effort to educate myself on a topic that I know little about, or to look up a foreign word. Though I’m surrounded by everything I could want to know, I sometimes find myself ignoring, and paying more attention to the ephemeral, useless details that waste seconds and minutes that add up into hours and days of my life.

Yet sometimes, Mr. Simonet’s words ring in my head. Look it up. And I do. And I find myself more rewarded with new knowledge. I find life becoming richer, deeper, more interesting, and above all, more connected.

It’s like what John Muir wrote: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

And the more that I find that things are connected, the more I care about them, and the more willing and able I am to act. Less the outsider to life I remain, and more the participant I become.

So I say to you. If you come across something you don’t know, look it up. What’s the worst thing that could happen?

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