The Teachable Mind Meets the Changeable Moment — being teachable means being able to shift perspective, to grow in understanding. Hard task for many folk, unfortunately.
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Life is a lot like school. Let’s think about math. In grade one, we learn to add.
Now, the goal of learning to add is two-fold.
- The first reason to learn to add is… wait for it… to learn to add!
- The second reason is to prepare to learn to multiply.
When we’re in school, each lesson is both about itself, and each lesson serves as the basis for the next lesson. Each lesson becomes the foundation for the next; each gives us something to build upon.
For many people, this rule of learning is forgotten.
Life provides opportunities for growth in understanding; these lessons are always in the form of a challenge. Each time a challenge occurs, we face a choice. Will we be teachable, or will we choose to do what we always do, think what we always think?
This is too important not to say again: each interpersonal, each intrapersonal skill we have can be seen in two ways:
- it can be seen as a thing unto itself,
- or it can be seen as a building block for the next learning.
Like our example: The purpose of learning to add is to be able to add. Pure and simple. The purpose for learning to communicate is to be able to get our needs met and to have a medium for the exchange of ideas. Pure and simple.
Until the first multiplication problem comes along. Until the first misunderstanding comes along.
That’s the changeable moment.
Imagine the poor kid, (Let’s call him Little Donnie Trump…) entering grade three, thinking, “Wow! What a rough two years of school. Addition. Subtraction. Reading. Penmanship. Printing. But I’ve got it all figured out! Now I can just sit back and relax.”
The teacher drops a sheet of paper on the Donnie’s desk. He reads, “3 x 3.”
The Donald may think, “What a stupid teacher. She doesn’t even know that the sign for addition is ‘+’. I’ll use my big words and point out her mistake to her.”
Another kid has been parented to be self-critical. He might say, “Oh God, I must not have been paying attention back in grade 2, I’ m missing something here, I’ll never be able to get this.”
Another kid says, “I think the teacher is trying to teach me something new. But that’s not fair! The teacher should change. She should stop trying to help me learn. Doesn’t she know that I can’t learn anything new?” (If he was 38, he’d be saying, “I can’t change my understandings now. I’m too old and set in my ways. Besides, the way I am is the way I am. And then there’s the genetic component.)”
The message is: “I think I’ll stop right here. Change is unnecessary — too difficult — whatever.”
We used to live in Mennonite land. There are many “Orders” to the Mennonite faith; Old Order Mennonites dress in black, eschew buttons as “proud,” drive horse and buggies, and aren’t allowed to have phones or electricity in the house.
Most Old Order Mennonites pull their kids out of school after grade 8. They figure the kids have learned all that they ever will need to know from school. They have basic math and writing skills — enough to run a farm. To leave the kids in school when the hormones and the philosophy discussions kick in — well, that’s too big a risk, as they might change their minds and choose to leave.
Lest we laugh too quickly here, I understand where they are coming from. Back before I retired, I endlessly heard two variations on this “I’ve learned enough — I can’t change” theme.
- “Woe is me! I’ll never have a successful relationship (with my spouse, my parents, my kids, etc.) good sex, a better job, respect, enough toys” — whatever. Or
- “I’ve tried and tried to change my life / spouse / job / understandings / way of being in the world -’ by doing ‘x.’ It never works. Please, teach me to do ‘x’ better, so it will finally work.”
In both cases, the client wanted my support for their staying stuck.
Here’s another illustration: depression. I touch my own sadness on a fairly regular basis, I know that there is a strong pull to just let myself go fully into a depression, even though I know the signs and “know better.” It takes a steel will and the willingness to ask for help (for me, that’s Darbella) to get through the episode.
The medical community extols the benefits of drugs. (Naturally. This is North America and North America is chemically addicted.) If you read the studies, though, you’ll always read: “Psychotherapy is just as effective for treating depression as drugs.” (It’s just slower — real change always is. ‑WCA)
What’s required is a therapist who can teach the client new ways of seeing her or his life. There it is again.
The teachable mind marries the changeable moment. Life is a series of changes. Change is the sea in which we swim. To rail against change is the height of silly. The only solution is teachability — the willingness to change ourselves — which could also be described as flexibility.
Back to math class and ‘3 x 3.’
- Little Donnie, (who thinks the teacher must be wrong about the ‘x’ sign,) thinks he knows it all and that others are stupid and incompetent. His goal is to smarten everyone else up. In his false superiority, he’ll cross out the ‘x’ , insert a ‘+’ , get 6 and think, “Boy, I sure showed them!”
- The self critical kid will give up, feel miserable, and and will stay stuck right where he is.
- The kid who blames others for where she is and what’s expected will continue to be “entitled,” and will never understand why the world refuses to go along with her.
And then, there’s little Johnny. His hand shoots into the air. “Mr. Brown! Mr. Brown! I don’t know what this ‘x’ is. Can you tell me how to solve this?” Mr. Brown says, “Class, this is something new, called multiplication. Imagine you have three piles of three pennies. How many pennies do you have?”
For the simply curious, the light goes on. And a new skill is born.
For the wise, comes another insight. “If I am to be fully myself, I must always be willing to change my understandings. My mind must be open — my heart must be open. I’ll need to reach out to others for new understandings. Because as soon as I say, I can’t, I can’t.”
It’s up to you. But really. How do you choose to stay stuck in a changing universe? Maybe it’s time to give up your illusions. For a better set of illusions. Which, soon, will be given up too. As Frankie sang, “That’s life !” The wise soul, in the end, knows that he knows nothing.