Some friends and I are compiling a list of things we are going to learn, and thought that they may as well be useful/life changing things.
Firstly, I'd like to say, please be specific. Don't just say 'I studied history and it changed my life'. Say something like 'I studied European relations between 1933 and 1948, and it helped me to appreciate...'
I'd also like to make a request that nothing emotional should be said. Nothing like 'I learned that friends are the most important thing you can have', as we're looking for things that can be studied.
I learned that although Dr. Mengele did terrible things, we learned a lot from his experiments. We learned a lot about the body's hard limits and how far you can push a human being before they die. Although he definitely belongs in the Evil Baby Orphanage, without him there are many things we would have never learned.
I read a lot of philosophy and I feel as though everything I read helps me think about the world more accurately, but the most important thing I've read so far is Nietzsche's master/slave morality. I'll quickly explain:
Master/Slave doesn't necessarily only deal with masters and slaves. A master is anyone who affirms themselves and negates anybody who is different than them (so a king who believes they're great and therefore all the poor peasants aren't.) A slave is anybody who affirms themselves only through negating masters (so the peasant are resentful of the king for not caring about them and they build their moral code from that resentful relationship.) As I said, anybody could be a master or a slave or both. Nietzsche's common reference point for masters was the God of the Jews and for Slaves he referred to the God of the Christians.
What really changed my outlook in a healthy manner though was that Nietzsche believed that slaves were far more evil and wicked than their masters. He believed this because the slave is resentful and the master is, at worst, negligent, and that because the slaves are resentful, they're capable of far more evil than their masters are. The master thinks nothing of killing their slave, but the slave is filled with intense negativity and resentment when they kill their master. He also believed that slaves could despise their masters for being stronger and better than they were, but in this case he wasn't likely referring to someone who owned more money as being stronger, he was likely referring to someone who was more intelligent, someone who was paving the way for the overman (aka the superman, or the Übermensch).
For the record though, Nietzsche doesn't really like masters either, he just finds them to be preferable to the slaves. It improved my life though because I now know better than to resent people or to think less of them because they're different than me. I didn't really think I did either of those two things before I read Nietzsche but then, once I began seeing example of slave and master morality everyone, I learned better.
I have been visually impaired, from some sort of degenerative condition for some years now, but as of last autumn I am officially legally blind.
Now, in Sweden where I live, if one goes blind as an adult, you don't really get to learn Braille. Instead you are told that you should use audio books, voice notes, etc.
But I am a writer. I have gotten a couple of books published and I am translating the Bible for Fribibel.se (an Open Bible translation) from Koiné Greek. I love to read. As in text, not audio. I also have two kids - I want to end the day by reading for them or us in bed reading together. So text was kind of important to me.
I didn't want to become an analphabetic, just because I was going blind.
So I fought for the right to learn Braille. And eventually, back in November I was able to start taking lessons. And now, three months later, I read. I read to my kids. I can continue to translate the Bible. (Yeah, I have learned Greek Braille too.) I take notes during meetings.
Literacy. It changes things. A lot of things. So - yeah - Braille. On top of my list right now.
Right now in college I'm taking an LGBT literature course, and in that class we're studying queer theory (which I didn't even know was a thing until this semester started). It's actually changing a lot of my perspectives as a member of the LGBT community, and not only that, it's helping me explore my own identity in new ways and discover how it has shaped me.
We've talked so much about the nature of identity, the nature of desire, the way sexuality is regulated, and the intersectionality of sexuality, race, religion, class, etc. and it's just gotten me to take a huge step backwards and examine myself, how I came to terms with my sexual orientation, all kinds of things, and how all the various elements of my identity have shaped me in ways I had never noticed before.
All the while we've had the opportunity to read amazing books. If you want to read a truly heartbreaking book, check out "Funny Boy" by Shyam Salvadurai. Just finished it last night, and it combines so many elements--sexuality, Sri Lankan culture/history, racial conflict, coming of age--and it's just...wow. I couldn't put it down, even though it completely broke my heart as it got nearer to the end.
I used to be so aloof and very self-centered and don't do things which I think would not be perfect. Last December after joining a reunion with relatives and neighbors (I live in a neighborhood which comprises of relatives and "peasants"), it dawned to me that if we are interacting more and try to live our life with less whining, we can face any individual with confidence. I mean, if we interact more with individuals (even ordinary folks and folks much older than you or much younger) we can see them more as a person and less as a being with brains who will criticize you any minute, therefore making you confident that human interaction is not that complicated. We should just see them as people -- like ourselves. Interact more and see people around you as persons just like yourself. I know this is not much of a "learning epiphany" but it surely helped me become less self-centered. I really believe human to human interaction is very important.
I've learned that I can't please everyone. And I'm okay with that. :3
Higher math + Programming
If you're compiling a list of stuff that you can study to change your perspective on things, I think these two subjects can be really helpful. Gaining any depth in either of these subjects forces you to organize your thoughts logically and express yourself precisely. It's like studying philosophy, with a bit or real world applicability on top.
Taking it a bit further, if you really want to learn this stuff in a way that will change the way you think, MIT's introductory textbook on programming <a href="http://mitpress.mit.edu/sicp/full-text/book/book.html"><i>Structure and interpretation of Computer Programs</i></a> is a good way to so it. You probably won't learn as much practical programming knowledge (it's scheme, after all, not python) but it really helps you train yourself to think in a more structured way.
Thanks to studying Anthropology, I learned that most of the social and cultural rules we accept as fact, and apply to ourselves thusly, are in fact social constructs, and that there are alternate ways to think/be/do/act/etc, that are equally acceptable and logical. Some are even more capable of making us happy and fulfilled, as soon as we stop letting mainstream thinking dictate how we should be or how we should feel about who we are or are not.
Focusing in on that a bit more, dichotomous thinking is a very Western way of viewing the world. Black and White, Light and Dark, Right and Wrong, etc. Once you start analyzing all of the things you instinctively put into dichotomies, you realize a majority of them are false. For example: Gender is a spectrum, sexuality is a spectrum, Love and hate are better understood as two intersecting axis, and so on.