Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Teachable Moments

Our culture has a nasty habit of shaming the ignorant. When somebody doesn’t know what we know, we say, “Really? How do you not know that? It’s so obvious!” When somebody makes a claim which is incorrect (or rather, which we think is incorrect), we say, “Wow. That’s completely wrong. You’re an idiot!”

There are some people who let that slide off their back; they want to learn and understand so much that petty insults are too insignificant to spend energy on. Of course, those people are the minority. Intelligence and self-worth have been intrinsically connected, so those who have less knowledge are lesser people. And once you have been cast into the lot of the ignorant, you are thus hopelessly ignorant. “Oh. I’m an idiot. In that case, I will stop asking questions so nobody will ever find out how much I don’t know.”

In fact, our culture is so deeply immersed in this cycle that anybody who deviates from it gets the special title of teacher. A teacher is that bizarre individual who enlightens the ignorant instead of shaming them.

When somebody is ignorant or incorrect, these are not opportunities to dominate, but are instead “teachable moments”. If one’s view of reality is skewed, show them real reality; explain to them the fundamental flaw that arises in their view, usually because it contradicts how the world works. Equally important, though, is to not simply tell them that they’re wrong, but show them what is right. Explain to them how things operate and encourage them to do things in a new and more effective way.

What makes teachable moments so special is that they are relatively rare. The same forces in our culture that make us judge each other on how much we have memorized also make us close our minds to new information. Only during special circumstances does the average person allow themselves to be receptive to teaching. And if you are one of those rare teacher-types, then take advantage of every teachable moment you come across.

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