Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Human Learning Curve

"In youth and beauty, wisdom is but rare!"
- Homer ("Smyrns of Chios"), The Odyssey

When I was a child, I was like a little sponge. I soaked up every bit of information that I could, and usually didn't even realize that I was doing it. I remember several times when I had said things, and my parents would ask where I learned that, but I honestly had no idea. Movie trivia, song lyrics, you name it; I absorbed it. The information was going in, but never really being analyzed or processed. I was just a little parrot. Monkey see, monkey do.

As an adolescent, I thought I knew it all. When parents, teachers, etc. tried to tell me something, more often than not, it fell on deaf ears. Making mistakes are an important part of life. Sometimes parents who want to protect their children from consequences will prevent this invaluable instruction. They intervene to get them out of trouble, and by doing so an opportunity for education is lost.

There are two major sources of learning in life. There is before-the-fact education, or preparation, where parents teach us before we make decisions, and there is after-the-fact education, known as recovery, where lessons are taught after consequences have occurred. When preparation wasn't done, or was but failed, recovery is the only way to learn.

Sometimes parents need to be tough enough to let consequences happen, and allow learning to happen this way. Everybody makes mistakes; they're part of being human. A mistake is a choice people would make differently if they could do it over again. Nobody makes mistakes because they want to; they make mistakes because they didn't know any better or just weren't thinking at the time. The smartest people aren't the ones who never make mistakes; they're the people who risk making mistakes and use them to make better choices the next time. Making a mistake isn't failing; not learning from a mistake is. It's ignorant to make a mistake; but it's stupid to repeat a mistake. The stupid people are the ones who are unable or unwilling to admit mistakes because doing so limits their education.

"Thinking that we're getting older and wiser...when we're just getting old"
David Gilmour, NEAR THE END

Many people talk about getting older and wiser as if they go hand in hand, but that is definitely not the case. Wisdom comes from experience, and even though experience can’t exist without time, one doesn’t necessarily lead to the other. Furthermore, just because we experience something, doesn’t automatically mean we learn from it. A running back in football puts his head down and plows through the pile of bodies created by both the offensive and defensive line. If a hole opens up further down the line, he’ll never see it. A friend of mine once jokingly said, “Be alert. The world needs more lerts.” Silly, yes, but it makes a good point.

Far too often, we plod through life, just going through the motions. Rarely do we take the time to stop and look around, or maybe try to see things from a different perspective. Without that, life becomes routine and mundane. Intellectual curiosity should never be quenched. There’s so much happening everywhere, in the world and beyond, that one can always learn more. From our microscopic genetic mapping, to the stars in the Heavens above, and the past, present and future of it all, there is always more to learn.

I’ve been noticing something more and more in my life as of late. There are so many things that are common in everyday life, that know nothing about, and didn’t realize it. For example: a local bar recently had an event that they called “Paul Bunyan Night” where they served pancakes. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what pancakes had to do with Paul Bunyan. I know that Paul Bunyan is a fictitious giant lumberjack who had a giant blue ox, but that’s all. It wasn’t until that moment, in the back half of my thirties, that I realized that I’ve never read the story of Paul Bunyan. For the life of me, I’m not sure how I know anything about him at all. This got the gears turning, and I began to wonder what else I make mention of on a daily basis that I don’t know anything about.

It was both humbling and enlightening at the same time.

It seems as though the older I get, the less I know. To me, this is a good thing. I'll never know it all, experience it all, or master it all. I'll never pay enough attention, be careful enough or remember everything that I’m supposed to. I won’t get everything right, and I’ll do foolish things. The best I can do is to try my best, and learn from the mistakes I’ve made along the way. I’ve made mistakes growing up, I still do, and I always will.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

For Valentine's Day, my thoughts on love & romance.

The general consensus of love and romance is a mixed bag to say the least. My original idea when I started writing this was to ask several different people in various age groups if they thought it was alive or dead, and what their definition of love and romance was. Based on the feedback, I had hoped to find a trend among the ages to see if it was thriving or dying. Common sense should have told me that there is no exact science when it comes to human emotion. We could begin the day bitter and jaded, and then meet a random stranger who fills our belly with butterflies and changes our whole outlook. With that in mind, I opted to scale it back and simplify things by just asking for their definitions.

The beauty of this topic is that there is no right or wrong answers; it’s all a matter of opinion. A friend of mine, who
is a fantastic creature in every way, always manages to say just the right thing, and word it perfectly. When I asked for her input, she
told me:

"Love and romance will exist until the last human being ceases to breathe. It all comes down to the self-awareness which prods us to find someone who makes us feel special...we will never become so rational as beings that we lose this need. Valentine's Day is so much commercial hoopla, but what it purports to celebrate is something flawed, yet lovely, much like ourselves."

Love: (luhv) –noun
A strong positive emotion of regard and affection.

I was both confused and distraught by the definitions of love that many people gave me, to say the least. As I said before, this topic is a matter of opinion, but my opinion seems to be very different from the majority of the people I asked.

When I think of love, I use my grandparents as the measuring stick. I’ve never loved anyone the way I did them. When they died, a significant part of me died with them. It left an emptiness that will probably never be filled. In addition to my feelings for them, I consider their feelings for each other. They didn’t shower each other in gifts or affection. I can’t remember a single time that they showed each other any form of affection. I never saw them so much as hold hands or heard them say that the loved one another. They could be in a room together for hours on end and not say a single word, yet as individuals, they were incomplete. This was never more evident than when my grandmother died. My grandfather was a man of very few words, and even less emotion, but when his wife passed away he became an empty shell of who he was. His eyes were filled with heartbreak and sorrow for the next year, until he eventually passed away. If I had to guess, I’d bet he welcomed the end with open arms. He was a man who survived the great depression, fought in WWII, and faced any challenge that life put in front of him, and he never complained, not once. It took the death of my grandmother to finally break him.

The way people described love to me, is what I would call infatuation. It’s a wonderful feeling that makes you walk around with a shit-eating grin from ear to ear. The feeling of ecstasy that has you floating along with your head in the clouds, or that wave of bliss that rushes over you when you see them smile while holding their hand. When I hear people talking about a relationship getting stale, that boggles my mind. I don’t want passion and excitement from the person I love, I want comfort. I want to know that we will be there for each other, no matter what.

Romance: (ro·mance) –noun
Ardent emotional attachment or involvement between people.
There are moments when people are moved to do incredibly thoughtful and wonderful things for the ones they love. It doesn't have to be a moonlit stroll, or sitting on a beach watching the sunset, and certainly can't be forced because Hallmark and the calendar says we have to, but I'm a firm believer that it still exists. I’m of the opinion that those who say it is dead might just need to remember the meaning of the word.

After doing a bit of research on the topic of “the most romantic gestures of all time”, I didn’t find anything that didn’t revolve around money. That makes me sad. While it was incredibly sweet of Joe DiMaggio to commission a florist to deliver flowers to Marilyn Monroe’s grave twice a week for two full decades after her passing, let’s face it, that’s still about the money.

Perhaps I just can’t relate to a monetary gesture simply because I don’t have the money to do these things. Never have, and probably never will. In my poverty stricken world (read: financially irresponsible) the determining factor should be the feeling you get, not the amount they spend. There’s a difference between being romanced, and being wined and dined. One is from the heart; the other is from the wallet.

One of the most romantic experiences of my life was when a girl I was dating and I decided to hop in the car and drive to the shore on a whim. We knew full well that by the time we got there that everything would be closed, yet we drove an hour just to walk the length of the boardwalk, hand in hand, and enjoy a beautiful summer night by the sea. The entire time...we never spoke a word; just traded smiles.