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Monday, March 2, 2015

Study, instruction, and experience...we need them all

I often comment it has been a good day because I learned something new on that particular day.  In fact, I make it a point to learn something new - it keeps me challenged and I enjoy the learning (most of the time).  Ever had to learn a lesson you just didn't want to learn?  I have - too many times to count!  Those are the things which are tough to learn, but necessary if we are to grow up into strong and "survivable" creatures.  I had to learn to brush my teeth, or I'd realize they would all fall out from decay.  I had to learn to take showers on a regular basis, or I would have body odor even I wouldn't feel comfortable with! These were probably some of the easier lessons to learn in this life - the ones I can say I have mastered.  Then there are the tougher ones - like learning to keep my mouth shut at times when less words are better than more, or how to navigate risky relationship paths that need to be traversed, but which are pocked with all kinds of landmines!  You know those lessons I am referring to - for you have your own.  In those moments, it would be easiest to just stop learning - to say the learning would be too hard.  Yet, if we want to grow up into strong and "survivable" creatures, we need to learn even the tough ones!


If you stop learning, you will forget what you already know. (Proverbs 19:27 CEV)

I think the hardest part of learning is being teachable.  In fact, the idea of being teachable implies we are willing to be exposed to risk.  It is indeed risky business to put ourselves out there - to be in the places of uncertainty where we see our abilities put to the test.  I used to dread it when a teacher would call on me for an answer when my hand wasn't raised - or when they'd make me come to the front of the class to read, cipher a problem, or the like.  Why?  It was putting me in out there - I was then required to show how well I had been listening and my ability to "learn" the stuff they had taught!  This was easy when it came to the stuff I actually enjoyed learning, but for the harder stuff - it wasn't so fun.  Learning comes by study, instruction, and experience.  Study is when we spend time getting into the facts about something we are interested in learning.  Instruction is more of the example type of learning - we see something modeled and then we try to replicate what we have seen. Experience is when we actually take the parts we studies and the stuff we have seen modeled and then put them together into the practical expression of that "skill".

To be truly teachable, one has to be willing to incorporate all three parts of learning into their day.  In fact, leaving out any of these parts is going to "skew" what it is we will learn.  If we don't study, we won't have all the true facts we need to make good decisions as to how to act, where or when to take action, or even when it is best to just wait a little to observe the outcome.  For example, when I was taking chemistry classes, I learned about acids and bases.  One is quite "benign" and the other is quite "harsh".  Acids can cause a huge reaction when mixed with somethings which "interact" with the "harshness" of this product.  Although bases seem quite benign, they have a way of interacting with other "harsher" products - bringing "balance" to the equation.  Too much of one or the other can actually result in something quite unpleasant.  I remember stinking up the science lab with something akin to the smell of rotten eggs with a particular sulfur reaction!  

By the same token, if we don't ever have the chance to see the object of our learning modeled it is harder to grasp it.  This is probably which cookbooks are filled with all those delightful photos of how the meal should look when you have it all done.  Learning to have the meat, potatoes, and veggies all finish at the same time is quite a different matter, though!  One must apply some of the knowledge they have learned by both "modeled" behavior/actions and what they find in the books (studied learning).  This is why the cookbook will give us those instructions on how long something takes to reach the desired level of perfection, not just the instructions on how to bread it, fry it, and the like.  The instructions have been provided so we can model the same "perfection" as they produced in the photograph!  

When we take our studies and combine them with modeled behavior or actions, we have a better chance of actually producing "similar" outcomes.  Here is the word of warning - we might just not produce the "exact" same outcomes - it might only be similar.  Until we repeatedly produce the same reliable outcome each and every time, we cannot say we have gone to the level of being experienced with the learning.  Experience is the level where we finish what  we start and do so with pretty reliable consistency.  For example, I now know I cannot start fresh veggies at the same time as I start the fish.  They won't be done at the same time - fish cooks quicker than most veggies!  I also know I cannot expect a five pound roast to be done in 30 minutes (without the use of a pressure cooker).  I haven't learned this by reading the books, though!  I learned it by experience!  I tried and failed, tried and failed, and tried again. In time, I learned the lesson!

Most of life is about learning the lessons - we just have to combine the skills of study, instruction, and experience.  In time, we will master those things we are willing to apply ourselves to - we just have to be consistent in our application! Just sayin!