Friday, August 8, 2014

Don't Climb Too Far Or Turn Too Sharply

"The purpose of learning is growth, and our minds, unlike our bodies, can continue growing as long as we live." -Mortimer Adler

Let's mix it up today. We'll start with a quiz! I love quizzes, so now you do too. I'll keep it short, I promise. Answer the following questions:

1.  What is the definition of the word learn?
         a. To blindly do something, mess up, and never do it again.
         b. To do something by trial and error.
         c. To acquire new skills you may or may not ever use.
         d. Is this a trick question?

2. Scientifically speaking, at what age do you stop learning?
         a. 22, when you graduate from college. Goodbye, rip-off textbook prices!
         b. 30, after you've finished your Graduate and Ph.D degrees (if you're lucky).
         c. 60, when your kids are done with their degrees that you paid for.
         d. None of the above. 

3. What is the definition of the word grow?
         a. To increase in size and form.
         b. To expand one's horizons.
         c. To arise as a natural development.
         d. Can I select more than one answer?

The end. Told you I'd keep it short. After all, 3 is always the magic number: 3 books in a trilogy, 3 wishes in fairy tales, 3 strikes at the ballgame - you get the idea. As for the answers, you guessed correctly: it is a subjective quiz. That means there is no correct answer to any of the above questions. In retrospect, I probably should have led with that information. Oh well. I'm sure you understand. I'd like to break the "rule of threes" by asking a fourth question. You will need some scratch paper to answer this one. Give yourself 4 minutes (because 3 minutes is breaking the rule). And go:

What is the point in this line of questioning and why is it important?

That's it. Time is up. Take a moment to reflect upon your answer. Now I'll take the time to answer this question from my perspective:
The Point and the Importance
The question, what is the point in this line of questioning and why is it important?, is twofold. The first part, what is the point?, is simple: I wanted to make you think. More specifically, I wanted you to take a moment to reflect on what the words learn and grow mean, and I wanted you to consider at what time in the human life cycle you stop learning. The options provided in the multiple choice questions were simply choices, ones that reflect (in my experience) human perceptions of these three concepts.
The second part, why is it important?, is the loaded part. In our culture, there is the mentality that learning has a timer, that is is something that eventually reaches an endpoint and is replaced by nothing. With such a mentality, individual learning can become stagnant at a given time in one's life. Stagnant is defined as "characterized by lack of development, advancement, or progressive movement." It is easy to become stagnant in life. We collectively develop our routines, our habits, our interests, our careers, and leave very little space for new endeavors. Learning does not have a timer, but many treat it that way. As a result, we become closed off to the world - one that, like it or not, will evolve without us.
From my perspective, here's why it is important: learning, whether it be a new skill, career, interest, subject matter, or anything else - keeps our minds active. It shapes us into well-rounded individuals who can take calculated risks, be open-minded, find initiative in new endeavors, and a multitude of other things. Learning, as with so many other things in life, ranges from the small to the large. Whether it be tackling Sudoku puzzles or making a life-altering career change, it teaches us to be resilient and that we can even have fun in the process.
Think back to your answer. What did you write? Now think back to the answer options on the multiple choice questions. For number 1, the answer could have easily been any of them. See B: to do something by trial and error. We learn at a young age that there is a learning curve to everything. I may have been an adrenaline junkie as a younger kid. If I was climbing a tree, I wanted to see how far up I could climb. If I was driving an ATV, I'd see how quickly I could turn corners. But I learned through trial and error. Climb too high? You fall. Turn too sharply? You'll hit a fence. That demonstrates answer A. You do something blindly, it doesn't work, you learn not to do it again (whether you do it again or not is a matter of judgment, but you did learn).

Now let's talk about multiple choice question #3. Each answer is, in some way, shape, or form, a variation of the others. Answer B, for example, is "to expand one's horizons." I will give you a current example: I am taking archery lessons. Going into this activity, I had no expectations on how I would do, as it is an area of interest that I have absolutely no experience. The subject matter of archery is one that has always intrigued me: it has been around for centuries and involves a good amount of precision and instinct. In other words, a challenge. It has been a fun experience, learning archery basics, correct form (I'm still working on it), and precision aim. In the short run, I was looking for something stress-relieving to do with my time. In the long run, I have found a new hobby that I feel is going to become lifelong. I expanded my horizons, and it gave me something awesome in return.

On a last note, multiple choice question #2: yes, I was being snarky with the answers. If you have discovered a common thread in my post today, it's that learning never has an endpoint. You are the one who decides when you stop learning. Please, keep learning. Because, after all, learning is a life-long activity. You just have to make the effort and it will reward you in positive and unsuspecting ways. 

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