Those words of John Cotton Dana above, confirm the old saying which tells us that learning is a life-long process: If you are alive you are learning.
Most dictionaries define learning as gaining knowledge or understanding of a skill by study, instruction or experience.
Psychologists on the other hand, define it as the process by which changes in behavior result from experience or practice. Such changes in behavior include changes in one’s actions, emotions, speech, and thoughts.
The two definitions above are in agreement with the old Latin saying: “All of life is a school.”
From our daily experience, we find that this is true because nature has its natural way of teaching lessons that one can not learn in books in classrooms, or in any other way.
Arthur Yansen is widely quoted for having stated that, when we learn from the troubles of others, we draw conclusions on how to avoid most of our own troubles.
Life is a personal story, from which another person can gather a few transferable skills that one can develop in one’s own life. In fact those who qualify as good students in this field might be few.
But they easily develop some knowledge, and skills from other people’s lives. When found, they are characterized by being more organized, open minded, and prepared for the unexpected, flexible with different thoughts and judgments, and often stay calm in different situations.
Life does not only teach us various lessons, but it throws us tests now and then as well. This happens when we are in the middle of hard challenges, and we must reflect on our past experience and of others that we know.
It is only when we manage to overcome such challenges that we look back upon them as good experiences.
This kind of learning has never been easy for man.
When we take life as a classroom, we have a choice to make in terms of the place where we prefer to sit; whether in the front row taking notes very diligently or at the back as mere observers.
In any case, there are some helpful tips that we must keep in mind. We should not limit our learning, we must learn from every thing, every situation, success or failure, from enemies and friends and always with our eyes and ears open.
It might not be easy, but some people do it well.
The Bible offers us a unique story of a teacher who also was good as a learner from life experience.
In this Biblical episode, one of the scribes who had been impressed with Jesus’ answer to the question ‘In the resurrection, whose wife will a woman who has had seven husbands be?’ Mk 12: 18-27. Because of how Jesus had handled this question, this scribe felt that he had more to learn from him.
The scribe was a scholar in Judaism and his scholarship was the knowledge of law, which he regarded as the sum of wisdom and the only true learning. His position in the Jewish community put him in a group adhering to a strict interpretation of the law.
Jesus was a threat to their influence and they were very hostile to him. It is therefore interesting to note that this particular scribe wanted to learn something from Jesus about the law and in a friendly way rather than their usual controversial approach.
He approached Jesus and asked him: “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus looked at him and understood that he wanted to learn, because among his fellow teachers of the Torah, they argued often about the relative importance of the many commandments in the Old Testament.
This scribe in fact wanted to find out the ‘parent commandment’ from which all others could be deduced.
And he was convinced that he had something to learn from Jesus. They had totaled 613 commandments, but had no agreement as to which was the parent.
Those who were around were so surprised to see a scribe who was listening with interest to Jesus’ answer as he cited Deuteronomy, a text that the scribe knew very well.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
What Jesus mentioned as the greatest commandment was not among the 613 commandments that they had totaled! He had been asked only one commandment but he provided two but with the common theme of love, which was acceptable for someone with the knowledge of law like the scribe.
The scribe not only followed with interest, but he expressed agreement with Jesus by paraphrasing him without any hint of hostility or irony.
Jesus too was surprised by this scribe’s correct understanding and willingness to learn. As a good teacher the scribe was used to seize all opportunity of learning. He was correct because who dares to teach must never cease to learn.