Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Learning From Those Around You

School is back in session in our neck of the woods. A new school year means new school supplies, new classrooms and new friends. It also means a lot of new learning.

I have been listening to my teacher friends chatter about this upcoming year and what they are doing to prepare.  I know that classrooms have been cleaned, desks arranged, bulletin boards designed, text books distributed and lesson plans reviewed.  From a teacher's perspective things are ready to go.

As I think back to my days in school I recognize the talents of many teachers.  I remember the lessons they taught and the tests I took, but the biggest things I learned were not in books, but in the jungle of people around me.

In elementary school I learned about playground etiquette.  I learned how to be part of a group, and I learned how to share. 

In middle school I learned about image and the importance of "fitting in." I learned that people look at the outside before they determine the value of the inside and that P.E. locker rooms are embarrassing for just about everyone.

In high school I learned about responsibility.  I learned how to contribute to projects bigger than myself. (Can we say drama department?) I also learned not to stare at the couple declaring their love near their lockers, or notice when a tearful girl lamented her last breakup.  I learned that everyone is trying to be unique, just like everyone else.

Somewhere in the middle of that I learned about world history, math, science and literature.  I gained a love of European royalty and physics problems. I delved into classic novels and tore my hair out in calculus. I was immersed in the process of collecting knowledge.

As I look back on all of it, I realize the education we receive as children is as much influenced by our teachers as it is the people around us.  I will never forget the kids who teased me, or the girls who I played with at recess. I will shudder every time I think about the "popular kids" teasing those of us who were not. I will smile when I think about my first invitation to a dance and giggle when I think about how long it took me to get ready.

While we are kids we soak up information everywhere we go, but at some point we seem to stop.  I realized recently that I don't notice the information around me in quite the same way I did before. I don't learn lessons from the human interactions around me and I don't apply new ideas to my life the way I did before. I am not idealistic the way I was before.  (I think I may have just turned into my parents! Ahhhh!)

I have to admit I am glad to not be so young anymore.  It was exhausting to absorb so much information all the time.  On the other hand, I am saddened that I have stopped growing the way I did then.  I have stopped speaking about my future with excitement and wonder.  I have stopped dreaming of being the first rocket scientist to write a novel in space. I have diverted my attention to the daily tasks to be completed and removed it from the goals to be acheived.

I would suggest, that while most of us are no longer sitting in a classroom involved in formal learning anymore, we are all surrounded by new information and lessons that must be learned.  We interact with humans everyday and we may or may not be learning what we need to from them.

Hopefully you are not listening to emotional locker confessions anymore, but you are likely observing the way people treat each other and the integrity they display.  You see what their priorities are and how they value their lives.  You witness their actions and motives all the time.

I would put forth that learning from those around us is one of the most important educational tools we have. We may not sit at a desk and take notes, but the opprotunity to learn is there.  Learning from others who have gone before, and those who are in the middle of it right now is invaluable.

So dust off those thinking caps and open your eyes.  Decide to enrich your life with the information you see all around you.  Trust yourself enough to ignore the bad and absorb the good. Expand your thoughts by challenging yourself to see things through another person's perspective.

Not only will your days be more interesting, you may just recapture a little spark of youthful hope and excitement.

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