What’s not to like? Try it!
That’s what my mother would say when her children looked suspiciously at unfamiliar food on their plates. Growing up,the rule was that you had to eat everything on the plate, or at least try it. Later, my father modified the rule to you don’t have to like it, but you had to eat it. It’s how I came to eat asparagus with a glass of milk chaser and how our dog was well fed.
Clearly, not everything that we do, or feel compelled to do is likeable. The doing however can and often does prove incredibly satisfying. Likewise, adding knowledge or understanding also makes any activity satisfying. Doing alters what we know. The coordination effort forces us to focus on details we often overlook, or fail to consider relevant and our actions lead us to understand the task differently than our first evaluation. The expression “easier said, than done,” ring a bell?
Experience and experiment, both French words, describe the process of trying, attempting, a trial or the testing of an idea or impulse. The result? We gain new insights and understanding when we integrate multiple sensory data points at once–as when things we see requires us to coördinate our moves.
I hear and forget.
I see and I remember.
I Do and I understand.
Confucius wasn’t the only one to understand the power of coordinated multi-sensory input. Most learning happens informally and when left to chance the results are counterproductive. Unlearning or replacing what we know with new information requires confrontation; since we find it easy to adapt to a slight change of circumstance when we recognize the common link. The history of putting wheels on boxes is quite lengthy but it is only very recently that wheels appeared on suitcases, crazy right? Not really. Perceptions often create barriers that are not easily crossed, particularly when formed from a cultural association and not from direct experience. Take a second and think about a restaurant. Naturally which one, its kind or style that you imagined reflects a choice among numerous variations. What you know about or understand about restaurants as in how to get served, how to dress etc are secondary to the restaurant you imagined; yet they come together as one package of knowledge that determines your behavior.
Experience vs. Source
Try thinking about Africa. Consider how you came to know about it. Africa, per Wikipedia, represents the second-largest and second-most-populous continent in the world with 54 sovereign countries. These facts differ from my intense study in 1969 of the continent in my sixth grade classroom. I mention it as illustration of the double bind that catches the education system. Like Wikipedia, the material presented to students is as dynamic as the individual contributors to the system but recourse built into the latter may be inappropriately applied. Should we rate the quality of sources differently than we do a vocation? Imagine comparing student learning from Wikipedia vs. an educator who has little flexibility in choosing the content requirements used to evaluate their performance. As a student, my sixth grade teacher gave me experiences to collect information from a variety of sources, refashion it to make it meaningful and most importantly encouraged me to keep learning, stay curious and continue to revise what I learned. We brought the daily headlines into the classroom to share and inspired me to take an ongoing interest in the news.
Can one gauge that measures knowledge also measure understanding? Who determines sufficiency or the necessary amount? In the US, each grade level has a set of achievement standards at both the Federal level and state level.
Achievement can be obvious though knowledge and understanding are fluid. Typically, repeating a fact demonstrates what we know and our ability to recall it without necessarily understanding what the fact means. For example, US middle school students all study the US constitution, and law students do too; but few possess constitutional knowledge comparable to supreme court justices. The justices’ responsibility call for them to understand the constitution at a level of articulation that is actionable. What I know or believe may not matter or may prove incomplete relative to their ruling.
It’s not just the gauge, but the dynamics of how and what we know changes both externally and internally. Every one of our senses has equal access to the input in our environment; and yet very little activates our consciousness and not all the input gets tagged to the same experience. In addition the input gets sorted for relevance. Memory reflects the recall coincident of relevant, sensory input associated together. No wonder no two people can recall the same event identically? It’s also why repetition makes us better.
Do anything again and your attention shifts from the first experience memory. Additional information gets added and tagged for its relevance. Even if the first time triggered a negative emotion, such as fear, anger or anxiousness, it added more information to your memory. Emotion does serve as our lookout scout. It will steer us clear from upsetting circumstances and raise internally doubt or trust issues.
As this famous Alka Seltzer commercial reminds us, one bad taste makes us unlikely to repeat the experience. Similarly a new experience when our senses find a near match to an earlier experience, it may get tagged as suspect. Trying something may require us to overcome a prior, related experience. The action taken becomes more meaningful when we attach or identify benefits. The attachments also impact our willingness to try the same or related experience.
Is open mindedness really possible? Yes, if you recast open-mindedness as an interest in knowing more and deepening an understanding. Moments of relaxation and comfortable situations make it easier to acquire new information. In contrast, our natural movements especially those that require no conscious thought, saves us the trouble of processing new information. The more efficient we become the less we take time to focus on details that differentiate every moment’s passing. Failure to notice, cuts an experience short, underestimates its significance and we move on.
Without notice, there’s no understanding, very little satisfaction and no wonder we feel less accomplished for time spent. Assuming an active focus will engage more of our senses and quickly exhaust us. It takes energy to reconcile previously held ideas and beliefs to the immediacy of our reality.
Think shopping. Regardless of what and where you set out to buy something, chances are the expectation may not hold up in the store. More choices or features
It’s why I stop myself from justifying the merits of something and am keen on having people experience for themselves. Long ago, my movie course instructor warned us to avoid reading reviews before viewing the film. Sitting and letting the director reveal the story to me does indeed make the film and my experience fresh. If the movie is good, I may need to see it a second time to catch what I missed. Repeat viewing allows me to deepen my understanding and see things I may have initially missed.
Think about how rarely we get the chance to repeat an experience. Did your appreciation change with repetition?
The socialization we experience of learning in the classroom biases us to expect teachers to know more than students. understood on movies I still count by tapping my fingers and don’t hesitate to see if I can fix things myself. In short, I try first and ask questions later.
Am I old-fashioned? No, I merely acknowledge that I learn to do better by direct experience. Thinking is another form of doing and perhaps the limited opportunity to experience some ideas, make them difficult to revise? Why do I think that everyone should pay their fair share of taxes? What active experience will help me test this idea and see if it works? Or the idea that bank CEOs are overpaid?
Stay tuned, the idea of adjusting sensibilities continues!