learningnlife

Ramblings about learning, life and other stuff

My learning after school and college- Part 1

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Calvin- discussion on cannibalism

I was supposed to be a good student at school- in the sense that I paid attention in most classes, asked questions and scored good marks in exams. I am sure I learned a lot at school, that has stood me in good stead in life, and has helped me earn a good income- perhaps a decent command of the English language, perhaps a love of learning itself by virtue to being exposed to so many different topics and subjects, perhaps an interest in my fellow human beings…

But there is a hell of a lot, I absolutely did not learn at school, which seems to me terribly important- it took me many years of working and living, to learn some of these things and some of this learning is still quite shaky.

#1- I discovered only a few years back, perhaps after 15 years of working after graduating from a top engineering college, that learning involves doing. I know it sounds incredibly stupid now, but for a long time I thought that one first learns about something (e.g. how to run a successful business) and then, well one does it (e.g.runs the business)…and if you fail, it means that you were a bad student when you were attending classes on ‘running a business’ or that you are plain stupid. It took me a long while to figure out that we don’t know what to do about most things, and we are fumbling and stumbling, and have to learn as we go along… I think it would have been useful if someone had given me a heads up on this in school (or at home) when I was 15 years old. I suspect some of my generation were as stupid as me on this point. For some reason, I suspect that the current generation of students aren’t quarter as naive…what do you think? Perhaps the age of innocence is past us, and our kids know quite early, that there isn’t much more we know than them, with any certainty.

#2- “The printed word is always true”. Does anybody believe this any more? But back in 1993- before email and internet, as a student and an employee, I diligently collected information from magazines, books and press clippings, believing these to comprise a repository of knowledge, their veracity sanctioned by their existence on a printed page. Even today, when I look at an average report I have written, printed and bound in well formatted pages with some sophisticated looking graphics, I convince myself for a few minutes that this in indeed a great report. I wonder if this naivete can be attributed to my scientific and technical education, where often ‘one thing is right’ (at least as far as how to drill a hole in a steel plate is concerned), or to my parents and teachers who did not question things much…or to the dimness of my own imagination. Somehow I feel that the current generation of students is not so stupid to believe the printed word…but I hope there are other stupidities they believe in, so that I can keep an even score with them.

#3- Now this one is a toughie, and I do not feel so bad about taking so long to realize this one. Perhaps this one requires people to grow older…but I also have a sneaky feeling that young kids too could learn this, with the help of a good mentor and some deep discussions. For a long, long time I thought that if one thing were true, it’s opposite would have to be false. It was a shock at first to realize that this need not be the case at all, and later this proved very liberating- to keep both an idea and its opposite in the mind at the same time. I am not sure I can explain this very well- so I hope you will understand this without my having to explain this further. I think this is what Scott Fitzgerald meant when he said “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” (Notice my subtle claim of possessing a first-rate intelligence- this is probably innate deviousness I was born with, and was learnt before school or life :-))

I think I may be back to write a 2nd part and maybe more- there are many more things like this, the school of life has taught me.

I also think the above kid of stuff is terribly important, with highly practical implications. Today I think, I am much more likely to start doing something, knowing that learning is possible only if I start doing- I would not have acted like this 20 years back, and was therefore a less effective person. Wonderfully, I realize today that the “seeming opposite” of this is also true- that it is better to start doing some things only after having a very detailed visualization of what one is aiming to do, possible future scenarios etc. So now, I can attempt a fine balance between doing and preparing to do, between doing and waiting. (We have not talked about the learning of ‘there is a time when waiting is better than doing’ yet- perhaps I will cover this in a later post).

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