The Potential of Human Drive and Humility


How far can a human being push themselves in a world where everything is provided at the touch of a button, reading is at an all-time low and screen watching is at an all-time high? The documentary Jacob answers that question. Currently running on Amazon Prime, this seemingly unassuming glimpse into the life of Jacob Appel carries significant weight for those who want to see past the exterior, or need “flash and bang” documentary storytelling, and brings the viewer into the life of someone who shook off social norms and pursued being a lifetime learner.

If you don’t know who Jacob Appel is, then you aren’t alone. His presence is nondescript, but it is his accomplishments that draw you in. Appel has nine degrees including a medical degree, law degree, bioethicist, psychologist, playwright, and New York City tour guide. He has also written dozens of books, short stories, and plays. He has spent the majority of his life gaining knowledge in at some of the most regarded learning institutions on the east coast, as well as earning awards of the highest claim.

What makes this documentary even more fascinating is that you wouldn’t know any of this unless they made a documentary about Appel. He is labeled throughout the documentary as “one of the most humble people you will ever meet.” Even the documentary length suggests this, as it is only 46 minutes long.

So what makes Jacob worth watching? There are two reasons I will go into in this post. First, Jacob shows the potential of learning a person can delve into in order to find answers to life’s toughest questions. Health, justice, peace, guidance, ethics are all at the root of Appel’s educational pursuits. They are the soul of the disciplines he studies. Appel not only wants to gain knowledge in these juggernauts of fields, but he wants to bring others along the way. Most of the documentary, when it is not interviewing Appel one-on-one, shows him going from speaking engagement to teaching opportunity. Appel’s love for knowledge seems to be so he can give it away through teaching.

One of the people interviewed for the documentary is a lifetime friend of Appel, Peter Grosz (Yes, it is the guy from the hilarious Sonic restaurant commercials). Grosz makes a comment about why Appel would go to such lengths to gains these degrees, “It feels like he is to synthesize this massive worldview.” This documentary shows that there is integration between the disciplines, giving Appel an edge up on most graduates as he is not known for one field of study (something that he might even see as a limitation). Instead, his humanities approach to learning makes him even better at each field of study. This is something most people aren’t doing. They receive their degree in a specific field and then sit back gaining knowledge in only it (and maybe who is singing under a mask)

A second reason to add this to your watch list is that it shows the importance of humility. Appel is introduced by every person in the documentary as someone who would never tell you of any of his accomplishments unless asked. He doesn’t learn to peacock his intelligence, but to search for answers and improve himself.

This world is filled with pompous asses that showboat their opinions, power, and talents. Appel doesn’t appear to be one of them. His appearance is non-descript. His living arrangement involves function over form. His pursuits aren’t about power, they are about the pursuit of truth. I, personally, found that inspiring and humbling.

Take the 46 minutes to get to know Jacob Appel and you, too, will be challenged to expand your learning and your personal potential.

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