Jay Shirley

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The Daily Practice

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The problem with learning.

Published: 28 Aug 2012

I was talking to a friend who felt a bit detached from life. I recommended setting aside 30 minutes a day for any activity that is entirely self-centered. It doesn’t matter what, just something that focuses on you. I hope she does, but she couldn’t think of things to try. This, coincidentally, is a great advertisement for Pinterest.

When searching for something new, it’s amazing how much exists but were unaware of it. It’s really demoralizing and gets in the way of starting new things. I feel that every day I learn something new. Not just new, but that I didn’t fathom before. The world is amazing like that.

I really enjoy writing. I write every day and read and re-read what I write. I read what other people write in hopes of getting better. I never really studied how to write, though. My English courses growing up were, to put it mildly, useless.

The other day I learned that I don’t know what the passive and active voices are. I can certainly identify sentences that use them as different, but I never knew what was different. I couldn’t explain it, as I never knew what that was called. I’ve seen them mentioned and read examples given; I’ve even read Elements of Style. However, if someone asked me to explain them I was completely at a loss. I couldn’t even identify the usage in my own writings.

Rather than feel shame or embarrasment, I try hard to embrace these moments. I follow history back to identify how I managed to write so many words and take so many courses without ever learning that. That seems to be how life goes. Once you learn something exists, it seems so wonderfully obvious.

So more importantly, what else have I missed?

There are too many things out there. Things we should know and can’t. What frightens me most is the things people should know and willingly seem to ignore. As an example, I used to argue that a basic civics exam should be given to anybody voting. My centerpiece was, “At least teach what is the Bill of Rights!” But nobody I talked to knew that the Bill of Righs is merely the first 10 amendments. They all emphatically agreed with my suggestion, though.

I believe that we are at an age where we expect to know the answers to all our questions simply by reading the preface. We started with cliff-notes and decided that was too long. We willfully condense all that we should know into the tiniest nugget that allows us to know the keywords. It’s a shame and we’re often wrong.

Read the whole book, it’s worth it.