Looking for the Teachable Moments

Wednesday, January 21, 2015 - 5:52 am

Looking for the Teachable Moments

I’m glad so many of you found it helpful to reflect on the “thread” that runs through your life and can keep you from getting lost in dark times. (See last week’s column of January 8.)
As I’ve thought about that thread in my life, one strand seems especially important: my aspiration to live as a learner. “What am I meant to learn from this situation? What’s life trying to teach me here?” Questions like those help me find meaning in apparently meaningless situations.
There’s an old quip about a desperate person who finally cries out to the universe, “Please! No more learning experiences!” Believe me, I know the feeling! But I also know that the less time I spend denying or resenting whatever is happening — and the more time I spend learning from it about what makes me and the world tick — the better off I am.

A man learns to ski at a resort in Harbin, China. (Guang Niu / Getty Images.)

That’s why I love this quote from T.H. White’s classic novel, The Once and Future King, based on the legend of King Arthur. Here, the wizard Merlyn, who’s been entrusted with educating the future king, is speaking to the young Arthur in what we’d call a “teachable moment.”

Memo to self: Keep looking for teachable moments in your own life. And when you find one, remember, “Learning is the thing for you!”

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlyn, “is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world around you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the thing for you.”

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is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include Healing the Heart of Democracy, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

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