“Don’t let schooling interfere with your education.” – Mark Twain.
These days we often use the word “education” to mean formal schooling, but I think Mark Twain had it right when he made a distinction between the two. Some people seem to think that our formal schooling is supposed to teach us everything we need to know in life, and they react with anger and bitterness when they find out differently. The fact is that formal schooling really only gives us a few basic tools with which to create our own lives. Our true education is life itself, and we all learn by experience, from the moment of birth until the instant of death. Some people like to brag that they have been to the “school of hard knocks,” but the fact is that we all attend that school, no matter how much or little formal schooling we have acquired. The larger message in Twain’s words is not to let societal ideals and “accepted wisdom” get in the way of seeing life as it is. We must always deal with life as it is, rather than with life as it “should be” in some ideal situation.
Life lessons seem to come in categories. There are things we learn about ourselves in particular, and things we learn about human beings, in general. There are things we learn about relationships and things we learn about “how stuff works.” There are things we learn about what is important in life and what is unimportant, and there are things we learn about ideals and illusions versus reality.
I was interested to see that several people on the web have taken the opportunity to list some of their life lessons, and they often do this on their birthday, listing one lesson for every year of their lives. If I did that, I would have to come up with 61 things by next December. Maybe I’ll do that. I could start on Thanksgiving, when I’m in a really grateful mood, and get 61 pithy sentences down by the middle of December. It’s fun to review other people’s lists. I find that I’ve come to many of the same conclusions, which is a comforting thought.
It’s tempting to want to pass along gems like these to everyone, and it’s obvious by the number of picture messages on Facebook and emails that have a bulleted list of wisdom points that people do succumb to the temptation. The problem is that you can’t really pass these things on to others. Well, you can, but you aren’t really teaching them anything. Either they will agree with the message or they will disagree with it. What they won’t do is learn from it, because the only way any of us learns these lessons is by experience right down there in the trenches. So… if I do end up writing my list of life lessons, I may or may not share, and if I do share, it won’t be to teach anybody anything, but maybe just to have fun comparing my life lessons with those of others. 🙂