I coulda been a contenda. This is the wail from Marlon Brando in the movie On the Waterfront when he discovered that his manager had sold him out. The character Brando played was a prizefighter and he recognized that his sleazy manager whom he loved sold him out.
In this movie the Brando character felt that his one hope to be someone was lost when his manager failed to get him the chance he needed in the boxing ring. I wonder if sometimes that kind of thing happens to most of us even though we are not conscious of it in the manner of the movie. We coulda been more if we hadnt missed the chance earlier in life.
Carl Sagan is said to have made the remark that Understanding is a kind of ecstasy. I suspect that it might be important for a young person to experience that kind of ecstasy resulting from an understanding arising from an intellectual experience.
Could it be that understanding is the heart of friendship? Is it possible that one of our first comprehensions of understanding outside of the family cocoon is our first friendship? Is that why friendship is one of the greatest things to happen to a person perhaps especially to a young person. Could friendship be our ecstasy of understanding?
I wouldnt claim that schooling has sold us out but I would claim that many of us were never pushed into making an all out effort to find that eureka moment. Religious people call it an epiphany. It is the moment when lightening strikes and that which has been struggled for is in our grasp.
Archimedes, it is said, had such a moment in his bath when, after much thought and anguish over a problem related to finding the gold content in his crown, he had that eureka moment when he understood the answer.
I think that a very large segment of the population has never experienced such an intellectual (not spiritual) epiphany. Most young people have not been challenged in a way that they have accepted and have as a result launched a highly motivated effort to climb an intellectual mountain. As a result they do not know of such a thing and will perhaps as a result never make the discovery.
It would, in my opinion, mark a real milestone in a young persons life if each one found some significant intellectual enterprise and followed it to the root so they could experience the thrill of understanding. Young people have things in their lives that they understand such as a friend or their first car that they fixed up from a junker or maybe some kind of sport that they worked very hard at and finally found that feeling about swinging a golf club that they recognized that is it I have found it.
Examples might be to really understand the Civil War, why it happened, what it felt like; or World War II or learning to be a Critical Thinker. Learning CT is a great step forward in intellectual matters, one could start here: bu.edu/wcp/Papers/Educ/EducHare.htm. The thing must be something you care about, something that will provide the motivation to keep going when it becomes boring. It should be intellectual. If you climb that mountain just one time and find the Ecstasy of understanding, as Carl Sagan mentioned, then you will know the difference between knowing and understanding and will be looking for more such understandings.
Emerson said: The commonest remark, if the man could only extend it a little, would make him a genius; but the thought is prematurely checked, and grows no more. All great masters are chiefly distinguished by the power of adding a second, a third, and perhaps a fourth step in a continuous line. Many a man had taken the first step. With every additional step you enhance immensely the value of your first.