Integrating life lessons

It is one thing to know things, and another thing to learn them. When we give our floundering friends sound advice, they sometimes respond with a weary, defensive or wry “I know”. Of course. We all know. If you’ve been alive longer than about 16 years, you probably know or have heard much of the wisdom your culture has been developing and passing along for millennia. If you are actually 16 years old now, you probably respond to invocations of cultural wisdom with a heated, double “I know”.

I know. I know!

My friend S., who teaches math at the university level, refuses to give notes to his students. He says that if he writes out the equations on paper for them in advance, they won’t bother to come to class, they won’t work out the formula, and therefore they won’t learn. It is only by sitting in class, listening to the teacher as he demonstrates how the formula works that they gain any understanding. Similarly, television can show you what a given world looks like, but looking at it doesn’t allow you to develop your mind. Reading makes you learn the world, because you have to build it and populate it using your own imagination. Read the history of Malcolm X, then watch the biopic.

I know, too. Intrinsically, through experience, or academically, through reading and hearing about all the myriad ways in which one can best approach life and all its challenges. I practise this wisdom as a parent, I hew as much as I can to what I understand to be the correct path in my relations with my children. With them, there is little doubt or self-indulgence on my part, and I think they benefit. Which isn’t to say I’m perfect – far from it. Because as much as I apply best practices with my kids, as much as I know, I know what makes life meaningful, I do not always recall the details in the moment.

With so many moments in one short life, remembering who you are and what you value can get lost in the din you make just getting through it. Taking the time to meditate helps, humbly asking for reminders helps. Responding with “yes” rather than “I know” can make all the difference. Knowing is nothing. Learning the lesson, over and over again until it becomes who you are, through every one of those moments, is how you integrate the knowledge.

So here’s to doing, listening and thinking. To all the people around the world who are gearing up to make a big, important decision about whom to vote for, I salute you. To the women of Pussy Riot, way to demonstrate how a lesson is learned (and to the leaders of Russia I say let your people think for themselves, you bastards).

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