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“Learn from others what to pursue and what to avoid, and let your teachers be the lives of others” (Dionysius Cato).
IT’S A SIMPLE THING, BUT IT’S VERY HARD TO ADOPT: THE WILLINGNESS TO BE INSTRUCTED. If any instruction needs to take place, it’s more satisfying to our pride to be the instructor than the instructee. Most of us would agree that straightening out someone else is far more comfortable than being straightened out ourselves.
But if we don’t adopt the willingness to be instructed, we cut ourselves off from most of the learnings that can make our lives useful and enjoyable. “Learn from others what to pursue and what to avoid,” Dionysius Cato said, and his advice is good. When others try to share with us the wisdom they’ve learned from the mistakes they’ve made, common sense says we ought to be “instructable.” We need to learn from the mistakes of others because, as the old saying goes, none of us is going to live long enough to make them all ourselves.
There certainly are times, however, when our own experience can be a powerful teacher, and at such times, we need to be just as open to instruction as we are when someone else is teaching. That’s especially true when our experience is the painful kind. “Those things that hurt, instruct,” said Benjamin Franklin. But too much of the time, pain’s lessons are lost on us, and we have to repeat those lessons later.
If someone pointed out to us how many times a day we’re in the position of either instructing or being instructed, we’d probably be surprised. The fact is, much of life consists of these two interactions, and so the more we can learn about what makes a good instructor and a good instructee, the more advantage we have in many ways.
When was the last time you willingly let yourself be instructed? If the honest answer is that it has been a long time, you may be older than you realize . . . or you may simply have let your mind grow old before its time. We may not want to hear it, but instructability (or the lack of it) is one prime indicator of how much life we’ve got left in us!
“Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one’s self-esteem. That is why young children, before they are aware of their own self-importance, learn so easily; and why older persons, especially if vain or important, cannot learn at all” (Thomas S. Szasz).