I’m fascinated by learning, and the ways we learn. It has always seemed to me that there are three main ways to learn – by example, by experience, and by explanation. Example comes first – when we are babies, all we have are the examples of our parents and the people around us, showing us how to talk, walk, etc. Once we get a little older, experience and explanation enter the picture, though anyone who’s spent time with a toddler – or a teen, or an adult, for that matter – knows that sometimes explanation will only take you so far.
And learning is a fascinating process, because the things we learn from the lessons we are given do not always play out in the ways we might expect. Think about it: If someone we like and trust tells us something that is actually wrong, we are still likely to believe it. Possibly even more likely than when someone we dislike or mistrust tries to teach us something that’s factual. Our feelings about the person can shape how we interpret information much more than how true the information is.
Now, if adulthood has taught me anything, it is that you cannot always believe the things people say, however you might feel about either the people or the things. And you should be particularly careful about believing things folks tell you about yourself. I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of incorrect pronouncements, and I’m not even talking about middle school bullies or anything like that. Many were well intentioned, delivered by people I loved and trusted, and quite often they had more to do with the person talking than they had to do with me. But boy could they be insidious.
From ‘you’re tall’1 to ‘you always know what to say’2 and ‘you’re the kind of person who can get away with eating anything’3 all the way to ‘you’re so confident!’ 4 I have been told an awful lot of things about myself that were just plain wrong. When I was very young, I actually believed a lot of those things, often to my detriment. When I was a bit older, and a bit less credulous, it was hard to know what to believe. Now, a whole lot older, I see these things for what they are – though many were well intentioned, they usually had more to do with the person talking than they had to do with me. But they can also be insidious. And I doubt I’ve been alone in all of this confusion.
So it turns out that learning yourself is a critical step toward adulthood. It came later for me than I would have liked, making my learning curve very steep. To make up for lost time, my activity level now is pretty high. There is so much I want to get to. I want write, to learn whether I can write, and to get better at it. I want to learn Spanish – really learn it. I am determined to work on the skills that really matter to me, and leave behind the stuff that isn’t satisfying. It’s a process that feeds on itself, I’m finding – the more I learn what matters to me, the better equipped I am to find the right direction to move in, to learn who I really am, and do more of what’s important. Also probably I’ll be failing, really stinking things up, from time to time. Should be quite a journey.
1 – I’m not, but the person who told me that was really short.
2 – I don’t. I really don’t.
3 – And that was a nurse!
4 – What?!? Man oh man, if this is what confident feels like …
(Classroom image via tokyogeometry via Flickr.)
(Learning prompt via the WP Discover Challenge. I didn’t exactly follow the directions…)