Friday, January 14, 2011

Learning How to Learn

My wife missed the boat this morning.

No. Seriously. She did. Most people I know either take a bus to work, or drive, or even walk. But not Marielle. She takes a boat. (How cool is that?)

And this morning, she missed the boat, so I drove her, which explains why I am sitting in a coffee shop near her work and far from home. (Yeah, yeah. I just bet you were wondering about that. And no, this time I'm not sitting next to a blazing heater. Thanks for checking.)

On the way in, we were talking about the development of the Faith and where we think some of the developments in our own cluster will be. One thing, out of everything else, really stood out: the need to learn how to learn.

Now doesn't that just sound like a redundant phrase? Can't you see it becoming one of the most annoying terms in the next few years? I'm sure it's going to go on the list of top 10 most overused phrases of 2014 on

But it's not there yet! So I can still use it with impunity.

There we were, sitting in the car sitting in a little bit of traffic, talking, and that phrase came up. "We need to learn how to learn", and Marielle asked me, "What does that mean?"

What does it mean?

Don't we all go to school to learn? Marielle went to college to learn how to teach. Every day we are learning, many different things in many different fields.

But this is not the same as learning how to learn. It is learning.

In school, I took a chemistry class in which I needed to conduct experiments, record my observations and make conclusions about what was happening. I also needed to learn to make a few theories and come up with tests to see if my theories were correct.

But even this was not learning about learning. It was learning to experiment.

No. There is a process of stepping back and seeing what we have learned, and then stepping back again and seeing how we came to learn it.

It is this second step that we are moving towards.

Of course, I probably get ahead of myself here, in my enthusiasm. Let me go back a bit and see if I can explain this to myself. If I can, then I'll see if I can explain it to Shoghi (who turns 6 in a few weeks) (feel free to send him birthday greetings) (his birthday is during Ayyam-i-Ha). If I can explain it him so that he understands it, then I'm sure I can begin to understand it myself. And then maybe I have a chance of trying to explain it to someone else.

Hmm. I see a problem, though. Shoghi is in school. Sorry. I guess I'll just have to use you, dear Reader, as a guinea pig. (Why are they called Guinea pigs? They are not from Guinea, nor are they a type of pig.) (I wonder, though: are they kosher?)

Let me try it this way.

Our first step is to do something and see the effect. If it's what we want, great. Do more of it. Or do it better. If it's not what we want to see, try something else.

Of course, we can do this all by our lonesome, hoping that we have the detachment and insight to do this well, but we know that it will be far more effective if we consult with others.

And hey! That is a learning about how to learn. I can learn on my own, but I learn better when I consult.

Now another thing is how to make the consultation the most effective in eliciting this learning. The main barrier I have seen when consulting on our activities is the paradigm generally used. We tend to think in terms of success and failure, and therefore if we don't see the desired effect, we tend to think we have failed. People don't like failing, so they come up with all sorts of excuses or rationales to not feel like they failed. But really, this is not conducive to learning. It tends to lead us to throwing away whatever we have done and starting all over again from scratch, thereby wasting all the effort that has gone into it.

This can be easily overcome by shifting our paradigm from success and failure to that of crisis and victory. There is a wonderful compilation on this subject, and it really helps us to understand this new paradigm. It helps us understand that every crisis leads to a victory, and each victory has the seed of the next crisis embedded within it.

For example, it is a tremendous victory when a community has an incredible bond of love and unity amongst its members. When they see themselves as a single family, this is very attractive and quite wonderful. A community like this will naturally attract others and begin to grow. But therein lies the crisis: as it grows, some of the members will not feel that intense love for other members. Friction will occur. Personalities will clash. The larger the group, the more likely this is to happen. This can easily lead to a crisis. Of course, the victory that is around the corner is when we realize how we can overcome this and still maintain the unity of the group. And this victory will lead to another crisis, which will see its own victory, which will lead to a crisis and on to another victory.

Another learning about how to learn more effectively is to let our egos go. If we think we have the answers, or know the best way to learn, then we are not open to learning better ways and methods. I don't know how many times I've sat in on meetings where things are not going all that well and when someone suggests a new way of doing something, it is shot down because others "know better". (I really hope I am not the one doing the shooting, although I'm sure I'm guilty of it at some point.)

Hey! Did you know that there was a compilation on the problems of the ego that was released about 7 or 8 years ago? If we realize that we need it now, then that puts us a couple years ahead of the curve! It used to be 10 years before many of us realized the application of the compilations. If we're down to 7 or 8, it means we're learning faster. Yay for us.

Another thing we have learned about learning more effectively is to do it more often and in more arenas. They say that practice makes perfect (it doesn't, it only makes more practiced), so if we practice reflecting on our actions in every area and with every opportunity, then we should get better at it.

Oh, and this is also the first thing that the Counsellors were asked to form a clear conception about in the 28 December message: how to extend to other spheres of operation the mode of learning we are using in our teaching endeavours. It's so important that, as I've said a few times now (my gosh, I'm really repeating myself these days) (did I say that already?), paragraph 7 of that same message is dedicated to that singular theme.

This is exciting.

We are taking action. Simple actions, often, but action nonetheless. Then we reflect on those actions and learn how to better them. And then, if that weren't enough, we are examining our own reflection process and learning how to better that.


Oh, and one last little point. What we are doing is quite difficult. Not only are we learning in action, but we are trying to learn while doing social action, where the variables are always in motion. I'm not sure if there is anything more difficult. Or more rewarding.

You know, I'm glad Marielle missed the boat this morning. She sure didn't miss the boat on this one.

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