On Learning

7 09 2006

No one knows everything, but allow for the chance that once in a while someone can come across, younger, and know more than you. And I don’t just mean books.

In Good Will Hunting, Sean (Robin Williams) leans over in a “Taster’s Choice moment between guys”, talking to Will Hunting (Matt Damon), saying “So if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling; seen that.” And so what? “You’re just a kid, you don’t have the faintest idea what you’re talkin’ about.” Even more, Sean seems to have the upper hand. But what makes his understanding so much more precious? Sure it can be said that he has “lived life” or that he’s been there. But if you haven’t gone to Vietnam, haven’t “held your best friend’s head in your lap, watch him gasp his last breath looking to you for help”, then how could I possibly understand it to that extent? What good is knowledge if it can’t be communicated? A better question, the one I pose to those who feel they know more about life, love, and such because they’ve “been there” is this one:
If you presume to know more than me because you’ve been there, and that all I can know is just from secondhand accounts from books and such, what good is it for you to give me another secondhand account? You’ll still “know” it better than I can, under your guidelines, because I still won’t have experienced it.

So here’s my take. I think you’d much rather I completely see it from your perspective (sort of like trying on your shoes in some virtual reality of sorts), then after I’ve seen it from your way, and just exactly your way, then I can make my own understandings. Let me listen to you, add your perspective, but just because I don’t see it through your eyes completely doesn’t mean I’ve ignored you or not learned. Let it go, and ask yourself if the secondhand advice I hear from you is advice I’ve heard from “They Things They Carried” or “Hamlet” or “Anna Karenina” before you immediately charge into telling me things I “cannot possibly understand.” They inspire soulful discussion, growth. Ask yourself, who communicates Vietnam better: you or a person whose entire career is defined by it. Who can talk about marriage better: you or Leo Tolstoy. Allow for the fact that I just have to experience some things as I go along. But understand that some experiences come before others in your life, and that I may not have to experience such misery to understand pain, or to watch a friend commit suicide to understand depression, or to total a car to understand what it means to take senseless risks.

Everyone’s life is different. A subtle touch more understanding and such. I’m willing to hear, but don’t act so condescendingly. Think, maybe he’s aggregated more information, maybe I can learn from him. And when you all begin to think that too, it might not be so one-sided. Remember those who lecture in the ways of old will never learn anything new. Try to understand these things everyone. Because I’m willing to learn from you.

 [ note: the repetitive, somewhat hypocritical, confused nature of this post is a mistake.  when reading this keep that in mind and fix accordingly.  ]

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One response

22 09 2006
Cindy

really not a comment on this piece of work. Although, you word your insight so beautifully and rhythmically. I really enjoy reading through your site. I just wanted to contact you and tell you HAPPY BIRTHDAY. You are in my thoughts and prayers and we are so proud of you. I have been somewhat of a lame “auntie” and for that I apologize. As for a card, I might get one in mail, but trust me it will be very late. Love you Kev and if you ever feel the need or find the time get in touch with me.
Cindy

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