CHAPTER NINE: Collision Learner
There are many ways to learn.
Today, the dominant method is didactically, by way of the classroom setting. When my kids started pre-school, I thought that was a funny way to put it since I could not see what was “pre” about it. It was school. Sure, school modified for little kids with lots of energy and short attention spans, but school, nonetheless.
From there my kids went on to kindergarten, then first grade and now my oldest is in college. After four years of that, her schooling will be done (absent the “blessing” of post-graduate school). But will her learning be done? Well, culturally we would of course say no, that her education will extend far past her last day in the classroom. We say that, but do we really believe it?
I don’t think we do. We mouth gooey aphorisms like “don’t let school get in the way of your education” that make good bumper stickers, but we don’t mean them. If we did, we wouldn’t spend so much energy getting our kids into the “right” college and so much money keeping them there. We also wouldn’t be so exclusively focused on the classroom and the dispensation of knowledge as opposed to the gaining of wisdom.
Wisdom is practical insight with spiritual implications, which is more and different than just knowledge. While it is important to know things, like (for instance) that a tomato is a fruit, it takes the practical insight provided by wisdom to understand why you shouldn’t put one in a fruit salad.
Knowledge without wisdom is bloodless—you can’t do much with it. It resides in the brain, like facts on file. But wisdom lives in the heart.
It’s one thing to know that you will die from hyperthermia if you are exposed to extreme cold for a prolonged period because that is a fact. But that knowledge will do you very little good if your car breaks down in backwoods North Dakota on a dark and frigid January night. To survive until dawn will require the practical insight that can only be gained through failure, adversity, and argument, and that only happens through Collision Learning.
Failure is an undesirable outcome that increases wisdom by exposing knowledge to the harsh reality of the known and unknown world. When I was learning to fly, I was taught that the lack of a visible horizon causes spatial disorientation. That was just another fact in my head until the first time I accidentally flew into a cloud—that was failure. The nauseous panic that nearly overcame me until I made it back to blue skies was the undesirable outcome of that failure. If that cloud had been bigger, it might have killed me rather than just scaring the hell out of me. The resulting practical insight (that focusing on my instruments in the cockpit rather than the nonexistent horizon was the only way I would survive) lodged itself in my heart as wisdom that made me very careful about flying in marginal conditions.
Adversity is a challenge created by an obstacle. Obstacles foster durability because the act of overcoming them increases one’s physical and mental toughness. That’s why the military uses obstacle courses to train soldiers. The physical aspect is obvious—navigating the obstacles increases stamina and strength—but the mental aspect is no less important. The act of overcoming an obstacle that he previously regarded as insurmountable teaches the soldier something important about himself and his capacity to withstand pain and chaos. It makes him emotionally durable in addition to just physically tough, and emotional durability is an indispensable trait for any man seeking wisdom rather than just mere knowledge.
Argument is the forceful juxtaposition of opposing viewpoints to learn. It is through argument that ideas are tested, sharpened, and advanced—or exposed as meritless and abandoned. A judge relies on the opposing arguments of lawyers to make a proper determination of a motion in a case. A legislature relies on debate to pass just laws. Without the clash of viewpoints that argument provides, the accumulation of wisdom is not possible. Whenever someone says to me “hey, I’m not looking for an argument here” I always think: then I guess you aren’t seeking wisdom either—so why bother?
A Minivan Centurion must be both knowledgeable and wise. Through schooling, he obtains knowledge by reading Homer and learning to write about Ulysses. But his education cannot stop there. He must also engage in Collision Learning to continue to gain the wisdom he needs to be able to do something with that knowledge, to make it useful rather than just being a fact folder in his head.
To truly be an asset, a man whose Three Dots burn brightly for his family and community throughout his compromised adventure on Earth, a man must never stop Collision Learning.