As a college professor, and a high Theoretical (from a values perspective), I admit that I am biased toward knowledge and learning. But, even this notwithstanding, I have been in so many conversations lately where the problem people raise is that it’s “ignorance” or “lack of education” or “lack of knowledge” about something. We often tell people that to improve their lot in life, they need to become educated or go back to school.
The truth is that the more educated we are, the more we know and understand about what goes on around us. There is talk now about putting the calories, for example, on restaurant menus. I know that when I go into a Panera Bread and think about the scone that I want to eat, once I see the calorie count hovering somewhere around 500 calories, all of a sudden that scone isn’t so appealing to me anymore. The funny thing is, seeing the calories actually makes me lose my appetite for the scone. Is it that worth 500 calories? Nope!
Education and knowledge can be applied to so many things in life. Most people don’t know enough about our health system, or about budgeting or credit management, or about investing and saving for retirement. Many people never learn about what makes for good communication, or how to engage in positive feedback with another person. We don’t learn well how to give constructive criticism or how to “read” people.
With all of the advancements in our society, including the Internet that offers quick and easy access to anything you ever wanted to know, or the educational system that is the foundation of America where international students travel to learn, most of us haven’t learned that the best way to learn about anything is to patiently and quietly watch as an Interested Observer. While I am fortunate to have a graduate degree, I can honestly say that my best education has been through the school of hard knocks where I have learned by doing, learned by mistakes and learned by watching my interactions with others.
We miss many of our best chances to advance our learning when we aren’t watchful or interested in what’s going on around us. A wise teacher once told me that our relationships exist in life because the easiest way to learn about ourselves is by being in relationship with another human being. We can think we are one way (nice, agreeable, etc.) but when I start yelling at my significant other, I realize there is more than this underneath my surface! When we really examine how we can be toward others in our relationships, it isn’t for the purpose of thinking “I’m so mean!” but rather it is to see that – as a reflection from another person – I may not be exactly the person I think I am at all times and then to learn something from this!
There is a great bumper sticker I’ve seen – “God, please let me be the person that my dog thinks I am.” Dogs love us no matter what kind of a mood we are in, but other human beings do not. They reflect to us their disappointment or distaste for whatever we are doing that doesn’t work well for them. Watching, listening, understanding and being willing to open ourselves up to other people provides us with a built-in schoolhouse for learning.
This week, instead of rejecting a comment from someone in your circle, or being rote in your approach to another person by doing what you’ve always done, be watchful instead. Adopt an attitude of “I want to learn more about myself” and see what your relationships with others can teach you.
It can be sobering, but also exhilarating, to learn something new that we haven’t been aware of before. Embrace what you learn and use it to improve your relationships this week.