By
Patricia Winchild
If visitors from a distant planet were studying us earthlings, they might conclude that we have a preference for doing things the hard way. There's an old German saying that "we get too soon old, and too late smart." Speaking as an older earthling, this certainly looks true. It might be interesting to run down just a few of the common ways that we seem to be committed to making our lives more difficult than they have to be.
1. Starting out with the wrong parents or families. True, we don't pick these people, have no say at all in the matter (wonder what things would be like if we did?) but, this gets a lot of us off on the wrong foot.

2. School... Again, we also don't have much choice here. We may end up with teachers who dislike children or just can't teach, and we may learn to dislike learning. That most surely sets us back. Those folks whose main interest in school/ learning is to get good jobs, but who care less about learning much else, may fare better in the short run. But, they fail in other ways. They may do well financially. But, they often attract the wrong kind of people for friends (remember, they didn’t learn too much about anything but how to make money so they may also squander that trying to compensate for all the other, more valuable things they lack in their lives.)

3. Now, finally, we are at a point, age-wise, where we do begin to have some real choices. But, by this time, few people either know that, care about it, or exercise well-thought-out choices. Looking for love could be considered the number one threat to our happiness. Even so, most of us attempt to find it over and over. And when we don’t learn from our past mistakes, which, of course, keeps us doing things the hard way, we insure for ourselves a lifetime of unhappily-ever-afters. This is true in spite of “public appearances” to the contrary. When people are deceiving themselves, they often become skilled at the art of deceiving others. This list is already more than enough. You can see that we do tend to overdo things. And that is a contender for the biggest blunder of all. So, let’s add a few more items to the list.

4. Excessive care taking for our bodies to the exclusion of our minds. It’s a very popular pastime.

5. Excessive drinking and /or drugging, gambling, shopping, working, eating, playing. These are oldies on the hit parade of screwing up our lives. But even “moderation in all things” itself can be excessive. Creative people learn to passionately involve themselves in something that gives them satisfaction. People who play too much often don’t learn the joy that work can be, especially doing something creative. Those who are too controlled don’t develop a sense of play that takes care of us when things get rough in life. And things do tend to get rough on all of us at times. Those who take themselves too seriously are boring to others and those who don’t take themselves seriously enough tend to become taken advantage of, often by those who take themselves too seriously.

6.Another very popular pastime that interferes with our health and happiness is excessive oversimplification. In politics, this is a big one. Today, it’s become politically correct to be “politically incorrect”. Even if what people call “political correctness” is something (like fair treatment of minorities) that they don’t happen to agree with. Isn’t that a bit like saying “I’m stupid, closed-minded and proud of it, goldang it”. Strange times we live in.

Maybe it’s time to sum up. Too many of us start off with one or more strikes against us family-wise. Then we learn to dislike learning…a major handicap. We really should learn to love learning in spite of bad schools, boring or nasty teachers, etc. And, even though we now have more ways to learn than ever before, we have still managed to learn too little about how to live.

If our families didn’t love ,support and nurture us enough, then we need to find and create better families for ourselves. Why do so many of us go out there and tolerate the kind of people who just turn around and give us more of what we were so used to getting? (There’s a clue in there.)

Learning how to take care of ourselves is no small task. If any of us thought it would be easy, that made it harder right there. It’s about a lot more than brushing our teeth, wearing the right color socks and eating enough veggies. Stress, undoubtedly does most of us much more harm than lack of exercise. (It is noteworthy, however, that exercise reduces stress.)
Americans have long been enamored with the idea that experience is superior to education. This prejudice has, I believe, reinforced our tendency to learn the hard way. Roger Asham wrote in 1725 that education was almost always a better teacher than experience. He said “An unhappy shipmaster is he who learns to sail his ship correctly after so many shipwrecks.”

We poor humans go through this life having enough shipwrecks. In the beginning and for a good while after, things are largely out of our control. (Children who are given too much power, before they have learned how to handle it, suffer from it.) One of the truly great things about getting older is that this is the first time in our lives that we get to be in charge of how we live. We have the opportunity to learn how to learn, to think for ourselves, to challenge old worn-out ideas, and discover what makes sense to us. But do we do this? Too many people have come to depend on their families ways of thinking instead of discovering if this is really what is right for them. Too often people are afraid to explore ideas that challenge popular beliefs. And learning does take time and effort. Simple-mindedness, on the other hand, takes no effort at all. Many people have shapely bodies and undernourished minds. Simple solutions to complex questions do not usually satisfy us in any substantial way. Society benefits from adult citizens who dare to tear down inequities and walls between us. And, if we are wise, we learn that we need to learn how to love.

On our journey through life, we cannot escape learning by experience and the hard way. But, if we work at becoming someone we like and respect, we can navigate our ships through less dangerous, destructive waters and secure for ourselves a safer and more satisfying destination.

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