We've learnt so little

"So, learning is remarkably difficult, certainly when compared with knowing, because learning is so expensive. From a learned point of view, knowledge looks ​more like the limits of uncertainty that can be born, like the kind of imprecision you secretly accede to. Learning is hard on knowing, like kids are hard on the furniture, like life is hard on the body, and it costs you considerably to learn, and there are casualties along the way, and there are things that you part with. And the parting with isn’t voluntary much of the time. It’s too costly. By that measure, elders have learned the most, and probably know the least." — Stephen Jenkinson, Come of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble (pp. 94-95). North Atlantic Books. Kindle Edition. 

Come of Age is one of my all-time favourite books. 

I don't think, from what I know, it's received the critical acclaim that should have come its way, unlike Mr Jenkinson's other book, "Die Wise". 

Never mind.

In case you're wondering, the above quote is not random. Ditto all the other quotes that I share. It's very deliberate.

The quote, though, is only part of a much larger, richer chapter where Mr Jenkinson explores the subtle (or not so) difference between our obsession — and it's very much of that type — with the accretion of knowledge but at the expense, always, of learning.

And, sadly, as a consequence of my age, I know exactly what he means.

You see, perhaps it's my line of work or the circles I've frequent, but there are gazillions of people who know a lot. And I mean they could beat you in a nanosecond at Trivial Pursuit or any other quiz game you care to name. Not just that but they're experts in their line of work having committed the requisite 10,000 hours and some in garnering a bushel of qualifications. 

You'd think I'd be in awe.

Sadly, I rarely am.


Well, take a topic like money. All they've (apparently) learnt is how to (a) earn it — lots of it — and (b) spend it. They seem (not always I hasten to add) to be ignorant of the message it sends out, particularly on the consumption, earth-degradation and 'me' culture front that seems to be the norm in the West. 

Compare that (for instance) to my late grandparents, Peter and Lorna. Apart from being the most loving couple I've ever known, both of them knew and understood the value of money. They had to learn it the hard way. It wasn't a case of opting for the option of frugality, it was their life writ large by dint of Peter having to care for Lorna who was blind and deaf by the age of 31, care for two/three children (my father, as a war child, mostly lived with his grandmother), hold down a full-time job as a hospital porter and maintain a very modest garden which helped, at times, to feed the family. 

Perhaps I'm biased, but my grandparents knew much more about money than the other cohort I've just besmirched. They knew how to budget and the value of all things but, most of all, they knew that money wasn't everything in life.

Perhaps I'm off-piste with my knowing vs. learning example — it's all too personal again — but then again, perhaps I'm pointing to something, still, that vexes me; namely, why is there so little wisdom in the world concerning (inter alia) climate change, education, caring for our elders, living in community, love and faith? Certainly, some of these things can be learned in books but, mostly, they're handed down through the generations, and right now, if my experience is anything to go by, we seem even more dislocated as a society than ever before, and, therefore, in peril of having any wisdom to pass along.

In the end, like all the things I share, I suppose I'm just putting it out there. I'm not expecting anyone to change or reflect for more than a few seconds on this conundrum between knowing vs. learning, but then again, imagine if we started a national conversation on what knowledge has really done for the world. In that regard, I think we could learn a lot from the indigenous people who, I'm sure, hold dear to living close to the earth and learning as much from her as they might do from another weighty tomb on a bookshelf.

Blessings and love,




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