Friday, February 23, 2018

Experience and Its Lessons

Experience is an excellent teacher. In fact, some might say it is the best teacher. An experience that brings on intense emotion can become seared in our mind and in our heart like nothing else. Students leaving college and seeking to break into the job market know the frustration of being told that you can't have a job until you have experience and yet wonder how you can get experience without a job.

Yes, experience teaches well. But what it teaches can be limited to, well, our own experience. It can be easy to assume that our experience is everybody's experience which, in fact, may be far from the truth.

Think about the person who trusts no one. They probably got that way because they have had their trust betrayed once, twice, or time and time again. On that front, their distrust makes perfect sense. Their experience has taught them well. Except that it hasn't. It has taught them not to trust when, in fact, there are trustworthy people out there and a life where you trust no one is fraught with angst and fear and cynicism and there can be no true bonding of friendship or intimacy without trust. So, the experience taught them well but taught them only part of the story.

Think about the person who trusts everyone. They may have grown up in a world of good and kind and trustworthy people. Many of us might call this person naive. A Pollyanna. Foolish, even. Their experience has taught them that people ARE trustworthy. This person can end up a sitting duck. A target for scammers. We still need to be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves. People aren't always acting in good faith. Trust...but verify.

Our experiences are so important. Yet if we only focus on our personal experiences, we become nearsighted, only seeing what is right in front of us instead of the entire picture. And from there it is an easy step to black and white thinking. Setting up our perspective as right and all others as wrong. Champion my position and demonize the other party. We become so certain about what we believe, what we have seen, and that puffs up into arrogance and offensiveness, and before you know it you are living in a world of snarky memes and pat answers. A quick spin through the Facebook newsfeed and you'll see what I mean.

How do we fix it? I think we start by listening. Listen to each other. Learn from each other. Share our experiences with each other. The broader your frame of reference, the less foreign and scary other people will seem. They are people, by the way. Human beings.

It is so easy to get frustrated with people until you find that their experience may be coloring their thoughts and actions. I used to get so annoyed driving down a particular road in town when I got behind slow drivers. My shortsightedness had me antsy and eager to get on with things. Then I got a ticket on that road. After that, I drove the speed limit (a ludicrously low one) and understood why others had driven so slow. Sometimes I would have people behind me obviously irritated at my seemingly laid back and pokey pace and I wanted to stop and yell, "Don't you understand? I just got a ticket!" But no, they didn't understand because they hadn't gotten a ticket.

I need to remind myself of this the next time my adrenaline surges at somebody else's opinion. They have experience that is informing their ideas, words, and actions. Maybe I should ask what those are.

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