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.

1 comment:

  1. I remember seeing the Paul Bunyan night and thinking the same thing. My only knowledge of Paul Bunyan comes from the Disney cartoon about him. I assure you there were no pancakes in that cartoon either. Did you ever investigate further? I guess the better question is: did the bar investigate before naming a night after him?