Yesterday, 17 June was my birthday. I am one year older than I was last year. I have committed my whole life to learning, and it is about that subject that I will draw a few insights from my life.
Learning: much much more than books
When a lot of people hear about learning, they immediately start to think about books, libraries and examinations. Fair enough, formal education is a very important (maybe over-hyped) part of learning. But I have found that successful learning is really about reflection on experiences (Freire, Dewey, Knowles). The operative word here is experiences.
In adult education (and related disciplines), experience is a central tenet. For example, Knowles (1980) differentiates the adult learner from the child because adults have lived longer, and therefore have accumulated more experience of life. That is an important distinction, because life on its own is a school-the so-called school of hard knocks!
However, there is a catch (there always is!). Experience in and of itself is a neutral concept, with both the capacity to enhance or actually hinder learning. Sometimes people go through life accumulating the “wrong” or bad types of experiences. 20 years’ experience of doing the wrong thing does not qualify you much for anything. If anything, that experience is a millstone in your life. This brings me to the importance of reflection.
Reflection then, is the stuff of learning. It is a higher function because it involves judgement. And judgement or evaluation is the highest form of cognitive development (remember the taxonomy of learning objectives?). So learning really is all about reflection: you ask yourself, what have I learnt from this experience? It’s a call to ruminate, to press the pause button. A lot of people just “get on with life”, taking each day as it comes without ever pausing to reflect on things. This really gives credence to the saying, “the value of experience is NOT in seeing much, but in seeing wisely”.
Learning from others: the value of mentors
And of course, just as people learn from and through experience, the bulk of our learning is through other people’s lives. Most people (me included) model their lives on “significant others”, or role models. Growing up, I have looked up to many great people and thought: I could be like that guy. Being a person who has had an affinity with books, it’s not surprising that most of my role models were either teachers or great writers! It helps to have role models, because it gives you a positive outside “reference” which is crucial for internal validation! (You can’t compare yourself to yourself: that’s a false narrative, especially when growing up!).
Being a mentor
But after some time, you graduate from being a mentee to being a mentor to other people. Again, this should be a conscious decision. A mentor has power, is a leader. With leadership comes responsibility. Responsibility to shape other people towards becoming the best versions of themselves. But you must also not be afraid to “straighten” others: with power comes responsibility. If you have lived a reflective life, a life of learning, you can sit down with a person and advise about the ins and outs of a situation, and still not be afraid to give a final recommendation. Judgement after all, is the highest form of learning. After all is said and done, what’s your position?
That is why to a large extent, self-actualisation can never be really possible in one’s youth. You are still exploring things. You have a certain level of ambivalence about a lot of things: your personality has not yet settled. That should be the value of adulthood: seeing life, thinking about it and making a judgement about it (even if the judgement is NOT to judge!).
Learning from deep within: grasping the mysterious.
Yes, to a limited number of people, there is an inspiration to and from art. They appreciate art at a deeper level than most, and glean from it certain sensations and impressions that “ordinary” people do not. A song that tugs your heartstrings ragged; a picture that evokes tears from nowhere; a piece of writing that transports you to faraway places. If you can live those emotions, you grow in mysterious ways, but you grow.
And I have grown in mysterious ways from associating with art. I have discovered that I have an affinity for music and fiction writing. And more importantly, that probably I have wee bit of talent in writing as well. It is a “power within” that you obviously feel early in life, but which finally “outs” as you reflect and do stuff. A capacity for deep emotions from imagined or abstract narratives is a big clue to the mystery of art and artistry. It is another way of learning, perhaps a more important one because it is forward-looking, visionary. It is something that produces something from “nothing” and sometimes creates the visions and motivations for actions that transcend present-day gloom.
In conclusion: gratitude
I haven’t always seen things with clarity in the past. But there is no more relief than when a person finally thinks: “I can see clearly now the rain is gone”. It’s a beautiful feeling, because you can concentrate on what you do best, and have the chance to become the best version of yourself. And that to me has been a source of gratitude.
Stay blessed everyone!
Thank you Lord!