Is there anything more important to a human than the ability to learn?
When I was hiring staff, we always need to find people who can be trained to do the tasks assigned.
I needed to find people who could learn on their own, identifying areas of concern, understanding them and finding solutions to problems.
Finding people who could learn from their own mistakes was important. They needed to be able to get out of their own expectations and assumptions to find ways to get better at their job.
The best staff, though, are people who don’t just learn from their own mistakes but who also learn from the mistakes of others. These people were able to see potential solutions from all around, understanding the picture beyond the edge of their noses, able to see through the eyes of other people and put together new, context based solutions.
An ability to survey many points of view, holding them in our head for long enough to understand the costs and benefits of their position is a key to managing our world. By being able to understand other people’s experience from their point of view we are able to get the best from them, learning from their mistakes and helping them find new strategies and contexts.
Managers know that the most effective path lies somewhere between all of the priorities, goals and values that are on the table. By understanding the viewpoint of the owners, the staff, the community and the customers we are able to find solutions that pull people together.
Being able to learn from other people’s mistakes, either by intellectual analysis or by empathetic engagement, is what transforms self-centred humans to leaders who create family, community, corporations and movements. We learn this lesson as parents, needing to understand and help tiny humans who do not yet have the ability to create their own solutions, in being responsible for humans who have a great deal yet to learn.
For transpeople who end up rejecting the social pressure that tried to train them in the expectations laid on their assigned gender, class role, and community identification, it is easy to end up becoming a lone wolf. We boldly claim our own wild identity beyond the conventional assumptions, striking out as a unique individual.
We have learned the cost of seeing the world through the eyes of others around us, the cost of being crammed into a box, being bound up by their training, self-interest and fears. Learning the lessons they have to offer feels like a path to destroying our own knowledge, our own emotional truth.
Not doing the work of entering the experience and viewpoints of others, though, means we never have the benefit of learning from their mistakes. We stay locked in our own limited worldview, going through the world with blinders attached to our armour.
My transgender experience of changing my mind has been shaped by entering the narratives of other people whose experience is very different to mine. I especially engage the stories of people who live as women in the world, opening to their jokes, their tales, their anecdotes, their fables. They experienced a social pressure for conformity that was very different than what was laid on me as someone seen as male, being gendered in another silo.
If I want to understand the traditions and challenges of walking in the world as a woman, understand the pressure and power of making the choices of a woman, I need to learn that somehow. I can’t just learn it from my own experience; that adolescence was denied to me, even if therapists knew I was feminine hearted before my puberty.
My experience as a child of Aspergers parents is of a family that did not have the emotional chops to enter my world, engage my feelings, and help me to put those feelings in a context that offered solutions. Instead, I grew up feeling frustrated and erased, being cast as too much, too intense, and too broken to be able to trust my own knowledge and feelings.
From a very early time I needed to get past my own ego and engage the truths that others offered rather than holding my breath and being the petulant princess. My situation needed managing, not assertion, so from a very young age I put my quicksilver mind to understanding and service of the family needs, becoming the target patient who stood up for required change.
Today, I see transpeople who value a kind of determined expression of self in the world, walking in their own bubble of self-defined truth, sure that they have all the answers they could possibly need inside of them. I understand this choice, as I have since I first saw it when I entered trans spaces, starting with the narrative of Virginia Prince I heard over late night talk radio in seventh grade.
It’s not the choice for me, though. It is a choice that isolates and defends us, but not one that connects us to the knowledge and feelings that other people offer us. I learned early that keeping my mind and heart open is much more important to me that wearing what I want to shop at Walmart.
Being empathetic, working to enter and learn from other people’s experience, is challenging. Every time you feel for someone else, a little bit of their feeling touches something deep in you. Love, sadness, desire, pain, it is all there. Too much feeling paid out, even in tiny smidgens, with no return, and the cost gets very deep.
Not being empathetic, though, has a higher cost, at least for me and my feminine heart. I need to learn from other people’s mistakes, need to keep growing by engaging the experience other humans offer me. It is only by seeing through more than my limited eyes that I can gain the understanding, the learning that seems to be a vital part of the experience of a human life.