Curious Work

It’s almost impossible to teach anyone anything that they don’t already know.

The best any teacher can do is clarify details, reveal connections and encourage bringing the knowledge forward where it can be used.     Teachers help focus and build on understandings which already exist, which explains the old koan “When the student is ready, a teacher will appear.”   Until you know that there is something you don’t know, something that you want to know, something that you need to know, why would you bother looking for a teacher?

The “Aha!” moment in learning comes when things that you already know suddenly make sense in a new and useful way.   The pieces click together into a structure that lets you access the information, lets you use it to make better choices or expand your understanding.

How can you be fascinated about something that you don’t even have an inkling about?   How can you have the curiosity to pursue something you don’t even know exists?   Why would you struggle to achieve something that you can’t even imagine is possible?  Why would you strive to achieve an end that you don’t even have a fuzzy vision about?

There are many ways to be exposed to new possibilities, different ideas, but without the curiosity to explore them and the discrimination to see what is good and worth working towards teachers are just demanding noise creators, cranking out a lot of blah-blah-blah that you just don’t care about.

The ultimate lesson in the world is simple: mastery takes work.   There are no shortcuts to becoming better, no matter how much we want there to be. Unless we see some very good reason to get smarter, better, and more capable, why go through all the hassle of doing the work?

Children have an affinity for people who can help them learn what they know that they need to learn, as Fred Rogers told us.   They know that to keep growing and maturing, they have to do the work, even if much of that work is play, experimentation and almost all of the work is made fascinating with a deep sense of curiosity.   They want to take the next step on their path, not leaping ahead to some imposed ideal but consolidating and extending what they already know.

When people aren’t yet ready to learn what we are sure that they need to know, it is impossible to get our teaching through to them.   The first thing we need to do is help them see why changing their old pattern, the one where they are focused on their current interests to the exclusion of other things that would be good for them, the pattern that blocks their vision of better because it shuts down their curiosity with blinders, why changing that would lead to better.

Everyone heals in their own time and their own way, even you.  Healing is hard work, not because the answers aren’t out there, but mostly because to get to them we have to clear out the blocks we hold to rebirth, moving beyond the magical, wishful thinking that we assembled to comfort us with separation.

To master the new, we have to let go of that which no longer serves us, making hard choices about what we want so much that we are willing to work for it and what we just cling to because we would like it.   Mastery demands we put our old self behind us in order to become more aware, more skilled, more disciplined and more capable.

If you don’t already know that you want something more than you have now, how will you ever be willing to do the work to learn a new way of seeing, a new way of being?

Even if we are ambivalent about our aspirations, fearing failure or fearing that they will cost too much, without those visions, how would we ever have the will to learn and grow?

Teaching is very often about telling people what they don’t want to hear, specifically that they have to work harder to get what they want.   That’s why encouragement is such an important part of the process, because unless they believe the work can lead them beyond their current muddle to better, they won’t be able to engage the lessons.

I was told over twenty years ago that I did grad work in trans.   People still working to get their basics aren’t going to be able to engage what I have to share.   There are lots of reasons why my offerings are just going to be seen as noise, as rantings which push hot buttons and don’t offer simple, practical solutions to everyday problems.

Seeking for a wider, deeper, more transcendent understanding of being trans in culture is what I do.  I know that the only people who will be willing to engage that work are the people who are facing the same challenges, who want to work in this area.

It’s almost impossible to teach anyone anything that they don’t already know.   Unless they have some knowledge already, some curiosity and some need to learn, they are not yet ready to learn what they don’t know that they don’t know, what they don’t even know that it would be useful for them to know.

Maybe they don’t need to know it.  In an information economy, attention is the ultimate currency, so we need to spend it on what we prioritize, on what we are sure we want or need to know.

Curiosity, though, has always lead me to revelation, to wisdom and to growth.  I like being able to look closely enough to tell the bad from the good, the good from the excellent, the excellent from the amazing.

Sometimes that means I see where people might be helped by learning something new.   Until they know that they need to know it though, well, they aren’t ready to learn it, and trying to teach them just wastes my time and annoys the student.


One thought on “Curious Work”

  1. After I wrote this, I found this book

    The Quest for Knowledge: Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on It by Ian Leslie
    Basic Books, 2014 ($26.99)

    Toward the middle, the book arrives at what feels like the point Leslie has been itching to make: there is no getting around the grunt work of acquiring true understanding. He uses chess as an example. Players become masters not because they have learned any universal equation but because they have memorized hundreds of games. Those internalized narratives serve as a reference library, a simulator in which to “play out” the many possible outcomes of a game. The more comprehensive that internal database is, the more capable the player can be.

    In other words, old-fashioned memorization is the real basis for skill, creativity and mastery. Because new knowledge sticks to preexisting knowledge, the more you know, the more readily you will learn new things. This point may seem tangential to curiosity. But Leslie contends that if people follow their drive to understand, they will incidentally absorb immense amounts of information and acquire the large memory banks that allow for creativity and expertise. As Leslie puts it, “Skills come from struggle.”

    Listen to Mr. Leslie chat on Curiosity:–why-our-future-depends-on-it

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