Learning, Doing, Being

February Thoughts ~ From the desk of Heather Gallant, 577 Executive Director 

The other day, I read something by education advocate John Holt that really made me think:

Not many years ago, I began to play the cello. Most people would say that what I am doing is ‘learning to play’ the cello. But these words carry into our minds the strange idea that there exist two very different processes: 1) learning to play the cello and 2) playing the cello. They imply that I will do the first until I have completed it, at which point I will stop the first process and begin the second; in short, that I will go on ‘learning to play’ until I have ‘learned to play’ and that then I will begin to play. Of course, this is nonsense. There are not two processes, but one. We learn to do something by doing it. There is no other way.

To take it a step further, I wondered about when one who is “learning to play” the cello becomes a cellist, embodying the identity of someone who plays the cello. At what point does that happen?

The same can be said of so many things that we aspire to learn, do, and be. If I come to one of 577’s painting classes, I am painting, making me a painter, while I am learning to paint. Does it not?

Rarely do we hear young children separate out what they’re learning, doing, and being. When you’re a child, you are in a constant state of learning. Everything is fresh and new, and there’s no separation from the learning, doing, or being. If, at this moment, they’re running, they ARE a runner. They don’t have to be good at it, they don’t have to have run a certain number of miles. They’re a runner! 

It’s not until we have the awareness that we’re not perfect at something that we decide we have to learn about it before we can do it, let alone be it.

In fact, the really good painters (and cellists, and runners, and what have you) would say that they never stop learning their craft. Sure, the conventional wisdom is that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master something, to become an expert. But who are we kidding? There’s always more to learn. Every day is a new chance to begin.

Recently I was sewing with a few friends. One of them is extremely proficient at hand sewing, maybe the best hand stitcher I know. His stitches are perfect and meticulous. He was curious about machine sewing, but he’d never done it. I offered to have him sew a long hem on a skirt I was working on. “No thanks,” he said. “I’m not ready yet. I need a lot of practice on some scrap fabric before I’m ready for that.” He returned quietly to his stitching.

After a bit of coaxing, we convinced him that sewing in a straight line is the practice. There’s no better way to learn than on a long straight hem. We put the stitch speed on its slowest setting, positioned the fabric, and off he went. What a delight to watch him go! No disasters occurred, he had tried the machine for the first time, and the hem was complete. Huzzah!

It’s an empowering thing to be able to walk through life saying, “I may not be good at it yet, but I can practice, pouring my heart, effort, intentions, and time into it, to improve.”

That one little word: yet. It holds so much promise. 

What’s the next thing that you’re going to learn, do, and be that you haven’t even tried…yet? Check out the classes offered to find some options.

Heather

(P. S. Please don’t misunderstand this as discounting the need for or value in credentials. Someone who is learning to doctor while doctoring may not be a doctor…yet. I’d still like them to have a license before performing surgery or writing a prescription, thanks. This is about the continuous lifelong learning process, not discounting expertise!)

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