Keep on Looking, Keep on Listening
I like walking, in part because it’s good exercise, and in part — in a natural setting like a forest or a park — it’s enjoyable to observe nature in its changing guises through the different seasons.
This past weekend, while walking on my favorite path near home, I tried looking beyond my usual, familiar line of sight. I made an effort to look higher up in the trees and further up the hillside, to see what I might see. As a result I saw some interesting new birds and butterflies, and a giant yellow and black spider overhead in the middle of its huge web, which I would have missed had I been lazily looking at the usual sights.
Although these sightings are in themselves of no significance, they illustrate the fact that when we make an extra effort to look, we often see something new, which has been overlooked by most other people. The same is true of extra effort spent on listening.
It takes concentration and a bit more energy to look outside our normal line of sight, to search beyond the familiar to seek something new and potentially interesting, but it’s very much worth the effort.
It’s a good discipline from time to time to intentionally “look beyond” the familiar, because given the hectic pace of life, it’s easy to settle into routines and habits, including the usual scope of what we look at, and what we tend to ignore.
It’s easy, in other words, to lapse into focusing only on things nearby, obvious, and familiar. That’s pretty dull and boring. We’re surrounded by interesting things which we can easily overlook because we’re in a hurry, or preoccupied with “important stuff”. It’s also good to regularly revisit the definition of “important stuff” in our lives.
The highest possible hope we can have for the formal education process is that somehow, despite the distractions, time wasted and anxieties endured, an individual with a passion for lifetime learning emerges.
In other words, a person whose curiosity has been awakened and attuned to questions far more important than those contained in entrance exams, final papers, TOEFL, SATs or GMATs. Someone who reads, who looks, and who listens, not just for the purpose of obtaining a trophy degree from a famous school for the purpose of getting a better job, but out of deep-seated interest in improving themselves and the world around them.
It is very easy to experience “schooling fatigue” after one’s formal education is finished, and settle into a path where intellectual curiosity is overtaken by other, seemingly more pressing priorities: family, financial planning, business travel, career developments, health issues, community causes, etc.
We should not confuse “schooling fatigue” with “learning fatigue”, or we risk becoming victims of the inadequacies of our education system.
Many outstanding leaders and entrepreneurs didn’t complete their university studies, or at least didn’t graduate from a famous brand school. However, many of these have something in common: an above-average degree of curiosity which drives them to keep on looking and listening, day in and day out.
Just as we need regular physical exercise to keep our bodies in good health, we need ongoing mental exercise to keep our minds in shape. Looking and listening are skills we need to mindfully cultivate and improve, on a lifelong basis.
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