Isn’t life wonderful? It has such potential to deliver joy, beauty, poetry and music for every one of us. More’s the pity that so many of us get only a small fraction of that potential for our portion. Still, gratitude must be the order of the day because things could always be worse.
If we take the time to examine the simple pleasures that most of us benefit from, we should be able to swallow some of the less digestible bits with a little more grace. Nature is nearly everyone’s inheritance – sun, moon, sky and stars, the green around, with maybe a spot of colour. We breathe in and out, taste the sweet along with the sour, and sometimes hear a birdsong. And perhaps, from time to time, if we are fortunate, our lot allows us a warm embrace.
We start out as strangers in a world we know absolutely nothing about. We start out with only sensations: warmth, cold, discomfort, pain, or their absence, and hunger pangs. Our first lesson is the instinct to cry out in reaction to what we find uncomfortable. We soon learn whether our instinctive appeals for help are likely to be answered quickly or with an incomprehensible delay. Scientists tell us that this knowledge might play an important part in determining what sort of creature we will become in later life. (See, for example, “The Role of Parents in Early Childhood Learning” by Susan H. Landry, Children’s Learning Institute, University of Texas Health Science Centre, which was published online in 2008.)
Totally dependent on others, humans, like other mammals and many species, begin their lives in a precarious situation. We all know from our own learning that survival rates have markedly improved with living standards and advancing technology. An exploding world population provides solid evidence for that. So has the chance that the psyches present in adulthood will be healthier. By no means can it yet be said that such is a foregone conclusion.
We accept that our early years on this planet are the period when we consciously concentrate on amassing the information and knowledge that we need to negotiate our passage through life. In earlier times, that formal period of education, now increasingly financed in one way or another by the state, was much shorter than it has now become.
In the end, we often learn much more on the job, after formal education has ended, about what we must know to do our work. Life has become increasingly complicated though and even this learning will not suffice always, as the very nature of work is altered daily. Jobs disappear, never to return, and new skills become imperative.
I was born during the Great Depression. For a good number of years, my father never had a job. I don’t believe he ever had a formal education, arriving in Canada as a young man. Yet, hired as a labourer to feed coal into a boiler furnace, through self-study, he rose to be an engineer solely responsible for a vast industrial complex. He had some book-learning to get his papers, but mostly he learned his stuff from doing his work.
My degrees were in agriculture, but the only planting I ever did was in my home flower garden. I had four jobs in my career, but only one, the first, had any direct relationship with agriculture. Essentially, I became a manager and I never learned anything about doing that kind of work at school. If I learned anything at all during those years, it was certainly by doing things I had to do on the job.
So what is management? It has to do with trying to get thing done through other people. I know there are courses that try to give a head start on learning that, but I never had the good fortune to take any of them. I can’t say I was a good manager, but I certainly learned a lot about what not to do. And I am content that I learned enough to get all my work done well.
The truth is that learning on the job applies to almost everything we challenge ourselves to try and accomplish in life. This applies to parenting and partnering like everything else. This is not news to any of you out there.
What makes our current situation so much more challenging is the rapid rate of change we face in our lives. How can we give advice to our young when they know more about what is happening in our current reality than we can possibly keep up with?
Parenting may be one the most perplexing learning-on-the-job challenges we will face in our lives. And I don’t envy this generation of parents, who find their children more adept at the latest devices in every home than they ever will be. They will have to concentrate on the management skills they will have to pick up to deal with children who know more about important things in the world than they do.
From working to getting along with our partners to parenting and more, it fascinates me how much we have to learn on a continuing basis, throughout our lives.
Max Roytenberg is a Vancouver-based poet, writer and blogger. His book Hero in My Own Eyes: Tripping a Life Fantastic is available from Amazon and other online booksellers.