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Essay on Learning

Written in 2000.

You learn something new everyday, but you learn something useful only once a week.

Life is full of experiences.  Every moment of every day contains perceptions and involvements that breed personal experience.  For the student, there is near constant exposure to individuals and materials claiming to  have information to share.  For the employee there is the co-worker offering an opinion, or a mandate, on how to accomplish a task.  For the family member, there is the wisdom of the aged, waiting to be dispensed, and the youthful call to idealism and the way things were.  For the Christian, there is the seeking of the infinite depths of the love of God.  For the spouse or the “significant other,” there is the desire to learn the pet peeves and to remember the minuscule factoids that give birth to a smile.  For the friend, there is a shared moment, a depth of growth, an exchange of opinion.  For the musician, there is the search for that song that will fully embody the life of one’s Spirit and move the listeners to react in their own individual way.  For the writer, there is the attempt to evoke a new emotional response from the reader.  For the hermit there is that one simple question which underlies all others: why?

The motivation, avenues, and approaches to learning are many and varied.  Opportunities are constantly afforded, and occasionally taken advantage of.  But for all that is out there, for all that is delivered (regardless of whether it is received or internalized), what is worthwhile?  Should we “believe half of what we see and a tenth of what we read?”  What of the rest?
Learning to learn is a step that many people skip, right on par with learning how to think.  It is easy to sit, give a nod of a head, regurgitate, feign appreciation, half-heartedly hope that the wisdom takes up semi-permanent residence in the depths of one’s gray matter—just in case the off chance arises where it would prove useful.

A classic example is the Spiritual life of many.  Sitting in the pew for an hour on Sunday morning (watching the clock the last fifteen minutes), scowling as an hour turns into an hour and three minutes, thoughts of lunch or television or yard-work easily drown out all perception.  The attitude expressed elegantly by a friend: “I go to church on Sunday, on Monday life goes on.”  The other one hundred sixty-seven hours in the week have their other purposes (never mind the fact that ten percent leaves at least a deficit of fifteen hours), and are dealt with apart from any desire for personal growth.

People exist and react within segmented mindsets.  The present has a singleton purpose, and is interacted with accordingly.  Every moment brings with it a clean slate, but often times the permanent marker is exchanged for (at best) a piece of chalk or some watercolors, and more commonly, an eraser.  Hundreds of thousands of slates pass by, some of them read, some of them ignored, most of them wiped clean.  Only with knowledge and experience are people so quick to reduce, so hopeful to reuse, and so willing to recycle whatever is thrown their way.

Are the slates passing by?  What sort of writing implement accompanies them?  There is much to embrace, but perhaps comparatively little worth hanging onto, unless you’re careful.  I suppose you needn’t fear, though—it’s probably not your time of the week anyway.

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