Functionally illiterate

We all know someone who seems to know way more than us. I can think of a whole universe of people who I admire and stand in awe of the things they (seem to) know. Sometimes I even catch myself thinking they must be way smarter than me.

Of course, the smart thing is not true, and it’s a poor use of time to compare yourself with others. But the knowing more thing? Yes, that’s always true. Someone always will know more. But even they didn’t know at one point. They learned from those before them.

General James Mattis pointed out in his autobiography that “Reading is an honor and a gift,” he explains, “from a warrior or a historian who—a decade or a thousand decades ago—set aside time to write.” Yet many people spurn this gift and still consider themselves educated. “If you haven’t read hundreds of books,” Mattis says, “you’re functionally illiterate.”