ACQUIRING THE RIGHT KIND OF KNOWLEDGE
The youngest children have an instinct for practicing what they need to know: from turning over unaided, to eating with a spoon, to walking on two legs, to talking in full sentences. When they get a little older, though, they have a little more trouble recognizing where learning is necessary. Ask any parent who has tried to convince a three-year-old that real table manners are worth memorizing.
What’s far worse is that many children never learn—and many adults never learn to emphasize—skills that can make the difference between living effectively and merely reacting to life. By all means, encourage your children to master reading, writing, and arithmetic; athletic and art skills; computers and engineering. But even more, make a point of emphasizing that everyone should know:
- How to take care of themselves and others in a pinch. Everyone should learn first aid and CPR at an early age, as well as fire prevention, home security, and rapid home evacuation in case of emergency.
- How to respect everyone else as an individual of value. We all know to beware of ethnic and cultural bigotry. But do you also take the trouble to listen to those who vote on the other end of the political spectrum; seem careless about their health or grooming; or speak with an annoying-to-you drawl?
- How to resolve differences of opinion. No one ever really wins an argument, not in the sense of forcing others to change their minds. Angry words and insults will change your opponent’s mind in only one way: his opinion of you will become more negative. If you can prove you’re right, do it in a way that lets the other party save face. If you’re wrong at any point, be willing to admit it. And above all else, take the trouble to understand the other side—and to emphasize points of agreement and mutual benefit.
- How to seek out the true facts behind any situation. Don’t just believe every third-hand rumor you hear. Look for the original sources, and verify what they really said. Know where to go for recent research in various fields. Ask lots of questions. And be careful even if research proves your original opinion was right: that doesn’t mean every related idea is equally right.
- How to be content with imperfection. Imperfection of knowledge (especially knowledge of exactly how things will work out), imperfection of skills (even the masters can always learn more), and imperfection of planning (all great achievers have long histories of trial and error) are all part of life: resenting that fact will only buy you a lifetime of misery. Instead, embrace imperfection and the endless opportunities it holds for learning and improvement. When you think about it, life would be dull without new things to learn and know!