Learning is not compulsory but neither is survival (W. Edwards Deming)
I am poorly equipped with original ideas, lack critical thinking skills, and am untaught in the arts of composition. Yet, I am eminently qualified to write about learning, for no one values study more than those who need it. I am not ashamed of my ignorance, although I would be embarrassed by an unwillingness to learn.
Why bother learning? Because the more we understand life, the more we will appreciate it and the more we will be in awe of it. Without knowledge and understanding we would be like a stone, existing but not living. Learning adds excitement and meaning to life. And since life is synonymous with change, we have to keep learning, merely to keep up. Learning, also, makes us fit company for ourselves as well as for others.
“Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” said Henry Ford. Interestingly, medical research confirms his belief. Those who keep their minds active by studying, for example, poetry and music, or by learning foreign languages and gaining computer skills, seem to ward off Alzheimers disease. The brain, then, like the rest of our body, needs regular workouts to remain in good shape. Its the old rule of “use it or lose it.”
What should you learn? Whatever interests you! Since your interests differ from mine, you’ll know things I don’t, making it possible for me to learn from you and vice versa. Learning is nothing more than gaining knowledge. Knowledge leads to understanding, which then leads to appreciation and love. Therefore, if we learn about life we will grow to love it. And the love of life is called happiness. So, the quest of learning is meaningful and worthwhile. How shall we learn? The ways are too numerous to list, but lets consider some of the more obvious ones.
Learn from experience. Reading and studying is not learning, applying what you have studied is. We learn by doing. Experience is the greatest teacher. Of what value is knowledge, if it is unapplied? To truly benefit, we need to learn, digest, and apply knowledge.
Learn from your problems. Every problem is a solution waiting to be discovered or an opportunity for growth waiting to unfold. Cathy Lee Crosby, who has had her share of ups and downs, had this to say, “It seems that we learn lessons when we least expect them but always when we need them the most, and, the true gift in these lessons always lies in the learning process itself.”
Learn from your mistakes. On the one hand, more can be learned from what works than from what fails, but on the other hand more can be learned from our mistakes than from theory. This is why Igor Stravinsky said, “I have learned throughout my life as a composer chiefly through my mistakes and pursuits of false assumptions, not by my exposure to founts of wisdom and knowledge.” After a mistake or failure, don’t deny it or make excuses, but learn from it. Also learn from the mistakes of others, you can save yourself a lot of grief that way.
Learn by asking questions. Rudyard Kipling explains how he became a learned man, “I had six honest serving men. They taught me all I knew. Their names were: Where, What, When, Why, How and Who.” Cultivate curiosity and discover a world of endless wonder and ceaseless opportunities for learning.
Learn from others. Think of all you can learn by associating with smarter people! Smarter or not, we can learn from everyone, for they all know something we don’t. Copy everything you like and avoid everything you dislike about others. Everyone we meet, then, is our teacher.
Learn by teaching. The best way to learn is to teach. And that’s exactly what I’m doing now by writing this article. When teaching, not only do we learn about the subject we teach, but we also learn how to organize our thoughts, do research, and develop our writing and or speaking skills.
Learn from your faults. Your shortcomings are your friends. They are pointing out ways you can improve yourself. Instead of running from your weaknesses, embrace them, for they are your road map to a brighter tomorrow. Use these faults as a reason to develop self-discipline, determination, and responsibility, so you can create a better you.
Learn from criticism. Don’t fret over criticism. If its invalid, ignore it. If its unfair, forgive them. If its based on envy, be compassionate. But if it is a legitimate gripe, learn from it! And if you want to learn how to be a decent person, resist all temptation to offer constructive criticism to others. Criticism is always destructive, but when its hurled your way, forgive those who did so, and learn from it if you can.
Learn how to change your mind. Critics jumped on President George Bush for changing his views on stem cell research. But whenever we change our mind, isn’t that declaring that we know more today than we did yesterday? Isn’t that good? To grow, we have to learn how to give up some of our previously held ideas or beliefs. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The years teach us much the days never knew.”
Variety is the spice of life. Although it is necessary to focus on a subject to master it, enthusiasm is bound to ebb if we devote too much time to a single subject. From time to time, shift to a new one, it will not only broaden your view, but each new subject will infuse a fresh dose of enthusiasm into your study.
Seek the truth. How can you discover the truth unless you open the windows of your mind by being broad-minded? When you come across new knowledge, weigh the facts, study the pros and cons, be skeptical, use analytical thinking and rely on commonsense. For as Bertolt Brecht, the German physician, poet, and playwright, wrote, “Never believe on faith, see for yourself! What you yourself don’t learn you don’t know.”
After learning, don’t brag. It would be foolish to do so, even if we are as brilliant as Albert Einstein. Why? Let him explain: “The difference between what the most and the least learned people know is inexpressibly trivial in relation to that which is unknown.” Yes, the amount of knowledge we can gain is trivial, yet, as the Chinese proverb says, “Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.” While on the subject of proverbs, Ill end with a Persian one: “He who knows not, and knows not that he knows not, is a fool, shun him. He who knows not, and knows that he knows not, is a child, teach him. He who knows, and knows not that he knows, is asleep, wake him. He who knows, and knows that he knows, is wise, follow him.”