“To arrive at understanding from being one’s true self is called nature. To arrive at being one’s true self from understanding is called culture.” Confucius
It seems we all learn in two ongoing ways: being who we are helps us know more about this life, and what we learn helps us be who we are. If we look at how we move through our days, we can see that we are all made of different mixtures of nature and culture. As a boy, I burned my hand on a stove and understand the dangers of heat. When experience is the teacher, I am a child of nature. As a teenager, I listen to others about their failures in love and this knowing shapes how I try. Here, understanding is the teacher and in this moment I am a child of culture.
I must confess that encountering these definitions changed how I see myself. For instantly, I realized that though I prided myself on being deeply natural and experiential, I was, in fact, very cultural, mostly a watcher.It has since become clear that the danger for a natural learner is avoiding the need to turn one’s experience into understanding. At these times, we become the flighty one who never strings the hurts and joys together into a lesson—the one who repeats everything. The danger for a cultural learner, however, is avoiding the need to turn one’s understanding into experience. At these times, we are the weighty one who considers everything but never acts—the one who never engages anything. Either way, when we falter in applying who we are to what we know, we experience a lapse in being real. This is a chronic condition that I, for one, have experienced often.
Indeed, as birds fly and molt, as spiders spin and trap, as snakes slither and shed, humans care and know. And as the bird can’t find much to do with its fallen feathers, as the spider spins and gets stuck in its web, as the snake ignores its already forgotten skin, we are left with our knowledge, intent that it be useful. But the use, it seems,is in the caring.