“Rebuke is more effective for a wise man than a hundred blows on a fool” (The Book of Proverbs).
IF YOU COULD CHOOSE ONLY ONE CHARACTER TRAIT TO ACQUIRE THIS YEAR, THE TRAIT OF TEACHABILITY WOULD BE ONE OF THE WISEST CHOICES YOU COULD MAKE. To be teachable is to be receptive to learning and open to instruction. Unlike the know-it-all who always ends up learning the hard way, the teachable person is willing to be warned. He or she is ready to listen and learn from someone else’s experience in the school of hard knocks.
One of the distinctive attributes of our species is that we know virtually nothing without being taught. Unlike many of the lower creatures, we are born with very few instincts. In the absence of teaching, we are all but helpless. Pliny the Elder observed this when he said, “Man is the only one that knows nothing, that can learn nothing without being taught. He can neither speak nor walk nor eat, and in short he can do nothing at the prompting of nature only, but weep.” It is true, of course, that we’re capable of figuring out many things on our own, but still, without the willingness to learn from others, our lives would be so impoverished as to be practically useless.
Yet there is an obstacle to teachability, and it’s the old demon of pride. Even so great a student as Winston Churchill could say, “I am always ready to learn, but I do not always like being taught.” So we need to put our pride in its place and adopt the humility of the truly wise ones: those who’re willing not only to learn but to be taught.
Normally, I suppose, we think of youth as the time when we’re most headstrong and unwilling to listen to others, but unfortunately, we sometimes become less teachable as we grow older. Perhaps without realizing it, we begin to suffer from “hardening of the categories,” and we need to go back and regain some of our youthful pliability. “Better a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who will be admonished no longer” (Book of Ecclesiastes). Maybe we’d even profit from the wisdom of nursery rhymes like this one:
Oh, that it were my chief delight
To do the things I ought!
Then let me try with all my might
To mind what I am taught.