The Art of Learning

Most would say that the mark of a successful tenure of anything—sport, school, job, etc. is to be able to look back and say that he or she would not have done anything differently, and that he or she would gladly take the wrongs they did and mistakes they made in order to get to where they are now.


There is a difference between saying that if given the chance, you would change nothing about past experiences, and saying that, with the knowledge you have now, you would advise your past self to do things differently. The former accepts that mistakes and wrongs often lead us to success and rights, and the latter is an admission of humility. Both have their time and place if we are to learn anything. However, perhaps the single greatest and most humbling thing that we can learn in life—is that we do, in fact, have things to learn. That with the knowledge that we gained from times of challenge and times of weakness, we have figured out that correction or adjustment on our part was in order, and should be in order for similar situations in the future.


Some of the greatest moments in life—greatest, here, defined as profound, lesson and knowledge-inspiring events—do not come in times of strength, but in times of weakness. Learning often presupposes failure; it is the acquisition of skills and knowledge through experience, and many times it is through this experience that we figure out exactly what not to do, or how not to approach a situation. By attaining unfavorable outcomes, we effectively avoid them in the future. Becoming better as a person over time does not involve success after success, but rather success after failure, with the hope that if we get up enough times, all of our falls will lead us to something beautiful.


Events that we experience undoubtedly tint the way we look at the world, and sometimes even the way the world looks at us. A tint is a shade or a variety of color, often used to mitigate otherwise unbearable brightness. In this sense, it is a coping mechanism used to deal with a situation that is too great for us to deal with on our own. The tint of our experiences works in similar ways; it is a learning mechanism that enables us to see the world in a way that would be unavailable without certain experiences, and allows us to see future situations in ways that are beneficial to us. Having tint means that we have learned. It means that our past has prepared us, albeit not fully, for our future.


The key in allowing oneself to be colored by life is to understand that dark tints—negative events that change our outlook—are not always bad, and light tints—positive events that do the same—are not always good. We live in a world of composites; the darks do not cover the lights, but make hem more visible. The lights do not mask the darks, but rather establish their necessity. We cannot and should not selectively choose which shades will color our experience, but rather train ourselves in the art of seeing every shade, as well as its relation to others, and the necessity of each color’s existence. Learning is about recognizing this interdependency, and that we very well may not have materials to build with, were it not for the stones cast at our feet.


Image courtesy of Karin Dalziel, Flickr Creative Commons.


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