Fifteen or so years ago, our daughter had a lovely black Labrador Retriever, “Tango”. Despite profuse and heartfelt promises that she would feed and walk her, in practical reality, Daddy did. Daddy, it turned out, was trained.  But, as a result of repeated daily action, Daddy, unlike Tango, also learned.
Tango was very sweet and well intentioned as all labs are. Alas, her good intentions never extended as far as walking obediently by my side. In retrospect, I was the one walked. One icy winter’s day, Tango was as usual hurtling me along the sidewalk. With the difference in our centers of gravity, added to some people’s lack of attention to salting their sidewalks, I suddenly up-ended on the frozen concrete. Momentarily stunned, I opened my eyes to find a very concerned Tango looking down at me. Well, no serious harm was done – though elements of vocabulary did emerge from not quite forgotten depths.  I discovered over the next days and weeks that Tango had absorbed the episode as a sort of instantaneous behavior modification and she stopped pulling for the rest of her life – alas, only in front of that exact same house.
What Tango experienced was training. What I experienced, by virtue of the fact that I am sharing this, was learning. Opportunities that present themselves usually have the potential of both, even though both are not always applied. When we are trained, we gain the ability to repeatedly perform a given task. When we learn, unlike Tango, we are able to apply that which we are trained to do in different settings and often with expanded meaning.
If the element of discovery is added, then the love of discovery more readily results in learning and may well inspire one to engage in training to become more proficient in areas of particular interest.
It happens then that the joy of discovery soon generates the desire to share through some form of action and the prospect of sharing generates creativity because – and lets be honest here – you have to sell it.
You can’t guide a parked car. But the moment you allow the car to move, no matter how thorough your training, you enter the realm of discovery and the unknown. This is where training becomes learning, and learning becomes creative action.
No successful and influential person ever got to that point on the basis of training alone.
I cannot claim to be all that influential, but then, I’m not dead yet. I am, however, eternally grateful to my parents for, consciously or unconsciously, allowing me to discover, for quietly inspiring through random but profound observations and just, quite literally, opening the book of opportunity and allowing me to choose, to discover, to try my hand at things that interested me and to share my joy in newfound paths. To this effect, when I was about eight years old, my mother gave me a small children’s encyclopedia and encouraged me to discover whatever I wanted – but on a regular basis. This was learning and learning rarely occurs without search and few will search without love.
In the end, when I look back at my years of primary and secondary schooling, years that focussed on training – drilling in information without purpose, I remember very little except for very rare moments when I had the good fortune to have teachers who inspired rather than taught. But my parent’s simple yet profound insights on life, art, and the universe, accompanied by that little children’s encyclopedia open in a pool of sunlight on the floor of my room has shaped my life and is permanently ingrained on my heart.

One thought on “Life’s Lessons

  1. A beautiful story and lesson for us all. As we move into more and more cases of remote learning for children, we need to remember the power of individual investigation.

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