Pay attention. I am not kidding. Really.

Tag: learning from everyone

Gold Nugget 3: Learning from Parents – Anyone’s

gold nugget symbolizing what we can learn from everyone

Learning From Everyone

gold nugget symbolizing what we can learn from everyone

Ask the Right Questions

gold nugget symbolizing what we can learn from everyone

Learning From Parents

Few people in my life give much credibility to anything I might have to say. After all, they KNOW me. (See Gold Nugget 1.) Gold nuggets from HER mouth? Please.

After reading Gold Nuggets 1 and 2, are you still pretty sure that your perfectly ordinary family and friends couldn’t possibly have some gold nuggets for you? Okay. We have the perfect marriage. I (someone else’s parent) pass on my “wisdom” – such as it is – to you, and you thoughtfully consider it since you don’t know me.

Your parents and grandparents can skip you and pass their wisdom on to non-children who accept it gratefully and gladly, since they don’t know your parents and grandparents very well and therefore, have no idea they’re really clueless.

See how this works? It’s a win-win deal, I’m telling you.

Yep. Little bit of humor there. Humor prepares the heart and mind for many things, you know.

Now I am being serious.

Truly, is it difficult for you to give much credibility to anything the familiars of your life might have to say? Is the phrase learning from parents is an oxymoron? Then maybe something in this Pay Attention! Blog will prove helpful since it doesn’t come from your parent.

Maybe one of my Pay Attention! posts will generate a conversation with some of those familiars in your life. Or not; maybe now isn’t the time for that.

Maybe Pay Attention! will generate a new-found appreciation for what your family members know. Or not; maybe I haven’t done a very good job of convincing you yet, and they still seem clueless to you. And, of course, there is the outside possibility they really are clueless. (I rather doubt it, though.)

Having dismissed your own, maybe this blog will set you to wondering if learning lessons from someone else’s parents might not be such a goofy idea after all.

Just so you know, I plan to keep on blogging regardless of what you decide. So check back once in a while. In the meantime, humor me. Give learning from someone else’s parent a whirl while you’re getting used to the idea that you might be able to learn from your parents and grandparents.

Learning from your own parents can be done, you know. And if you decide to try it, I’d love to hear what you’re learning. I’ve learned A WHOLE LOT from other people’s parents already, and I’d be tickled to learn something from your parents, too.

photo of a parent, probably a grandparent, who could probably teach us all something

A wise man can save you time and money!

red box with white text of Longfellow's quote of conversing with a wise man

Whose grandparent could you cozy up to
for some pay-attention, gold-nugget mining?

© 2013 Teresa Layne Bennett
[photo from Parenting4Tomorrow]

Gold Nugget 2: Asking the Right Questions

gold nugget symbolizing what we can learn from everyone

Learning From Everyone

gold nugget symbolizing what we can learn from everyone

Ask the Right Questions

Good news: there are only two tricks to mining gold nuggets from everyone you meet. Bad news: the first one is devilishly hard.

1. Stop talking about YOU.

Stop talking about what you think and where you’ve been and where you’re going. We can’t really learn much when we’re the one doing all the talking: all we’ll hear is stuff we already know. No, if you want to learn something new, get someone else to tell you about their life experiences and what they’ve learned from them.

Notice, I didn’t simply say “get others to talk.” As you know, getting people to yammer on mindlessly is not the problem: getting them to stop is. Most of us, for some bizarre reason, blather endlessly about the non-events of our lives, the ho-hum “and then I went to Starbucks and after that I went to the mall” stuff. That sort of talk is definitely not gold-nugget material.

2. Ask the right questions.

Ask questions that prompt the pivot-point stories of a person’s life. Good news: this one is easy. Simply use the same 5 Ws – who, what, when, where, why – that journalists use.

The two most promising of these 5 Ws are what and why. The most unpromising types of questions are yes-or-no questions. They’re deal-breakers that will force you to keep probing. Eventually you’ll end up with the what and why questions, so why not start there?

For instance, when you ask that stoop-shouldered, ancient codger next door who lived through World War II, “What was your most interesting experience during the war?” you’ll hear a story like none you’ve ever heard. Somewhere in it will be a little nugget – the mined gold of that man’s war experience. Or not. You may have to dig deeper and ask a why question, e.g., “Why was that so __________ for you?” And then your nugget shows its golden face.

Don’t be youthfully arrogant, as I was for so long. Mark it down. Key it into your journal. THINK on that gold nugget. World War II was heavy stuff. Anyone born after 1945 hasn’t experienced anything close to it and isn’t likely to. That life experience forged an entire generation (The Builder Generation) of tough men and women. They experienced Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, the one that “aroused a sleeping giant” that we now know as our country. And anyone still alive who lived through that momentous epoch of our country’s history has had a lifetime to ponder that experience, draw from it, learn from it. If they’re willing to share that insight with you, pay attention. 

What about the 100-plus-year-old black woman you meet while you’re on vacation in Georgia, the one whose mother was born a slave? What stories does she remember from her mother’s life experiences? You’ll never know if you don’t tactfully ask open-ended questions. And when will you again get to hear stories only one telling removed from Civil War days? You won’t. Pay attention.

What about that mild-mannered guy who lives above you? He seems nice, quiet, considerate – but he sure keeps to himself. When asked the right questions by an interested neighbor (that would be you), what might he be willing to reveal? What if he fought in the jungles of Viet Nam? What if you politely showed enough sincere interest that he was willing to let down his reserve for a few moments every now and then? What do you do? You pay attention because he has something to tell you that you’d never learn otherwise.

Look around.

Your world is filled to the rim with people who have something to teach you and are all interesting in their own ways. Many of them have learned a great deal of life’s lessons by getting kicked in the teeth (like moi). A tiny few have had Lady Luck pay a visit in an astounding way. Many have just wandered through an average, middle-America life and learned a lot of lessons along their wandering way. When you think about the variety of experiences and lessons learned by people you know – or even meet for an hour or two as jet seatmates – it’s astonishing.

Get people to talk.
Ask the right questions.

Get them to tell you about those interesting parts of their lives and what they’ve learned from them. First, get beyond the banal, “Where are you headed?” “Oh, yes. I’ve been to Seattle. Cool place, isn’t it?” kind of conversations. They’re chewing gum for the mind – a whole lot of yammering, but not much learned – unless they’re springboards for some really meaty discussion. Next, use the creme of the 5 Ws – the what and why questions: “What’s your favorite place in Seattle? Really? Why is that?”

Using what and why as mining tools will show you the variety of life but more importantly, yield gold nuggets – lessons learned from experiences you’ll never have from people you might never see again. Your Seattle-bound seatmate? You won’t cross paths again, except in Baggage Claim. Grandma? She might live another ten years. Might not. Your new neighbors? They might live across the street from you another 15 years – or get transferred, yet again, next week.

Start asking gold-nugget,
5-W questions NOW.

Not asking the right questions means you’re loosing gold-nugget opportunities to learn some of life’s lessons. No two-by-fours between the eyes. No shin-splitting blows. Just interesting, painless, useful lessons. And have you noticed no silver spoons are required – just the cultivated skill of asking the right questions?

Already pretty proficient at asking 5-W questions? How about sharing some of your 5-W gold nuggets with the rest of us? Let us listen.

red box with white text of Ernest Hemingway's quote about listening carefully

LISTEN. Maybe you’re the next Hemingway.

© 2013 Teresa Layne Bennett

Gold Nugget 1: Learning from Everyone


Learning From Everyone

You can learn from everyone – yes, everyone.* There’s a gold nugget of useful information hidden in everyone’s experiences somewhere.

If I know you, then you can’t possibly know much. You – my friends and family members – are all so ordinary – clueless, even.

Ever thought this? I have. A predictable attitude in one’s teens, I got over it during college, then reverted back to it again in my twenties and thirties.

But think about it. That kind of logic is just plain nuts.

Einstein, the E=mc² guy – he, no doubt, had friends and family. Michelangelo, the Sistine Chapel guy – I’ll bet he had friends and family. Do you suppose these fellas’ close friends and families thought old Einy and Mikey couldn’t possibly have much of value to share with them? Probably. Were they right? No. Were they behaving oddly? No. This issue of giving the people closest to us no credit for knowing much of anything – at least, not anything we need to know – is not odd or even new.

Way before Einstein and Michelangelo – back in the first century – Jesus said, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town ….” While he wasn’t commending his audience for this shortsightedness, he was stating a generally known fact about human nature.

Oh, but that was then. This is NOW. Things are different NOW. We’re far more savvy and enlightened NOW.

Are you kidding?

Today’s biz pundits define an expert as someone in a three-piece suit, carrying a briefcase, 500 miles from home. Get that? He isn’t an expert till he steps off the plane – 500 miles from home. Did he acquire enough knowledge from his flight seatmate to become an expert by the time he deplaned? Did he cram enough for those three hours to become an expert? I don’t think so. He was an expert all along, but no one who knew him personally wanted to think of him as knowing much they’d want to know.

It would appear that for a very long time, we humans have behaved as if we have to NOT know someone before we can give them credit for knowing something. Phrased that way, it does seem a bit daft, doesn’t it? Did I not just say this is plain nuts?

While every age has its brilliants – like Einstein and Michelangelo – star actors and actresses who add significantly to its culture, every age also has those not-so-brilliant bit players. Every age has those who, though not brilliant, have personally experienced a lot and also learned from others along their way. Your parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles may even be part of this group. But human nature being what it is, heaven forbid that you should listen to them – people you know.

Everyone has a gold nugget.

Good news: you don’t have to listen to family because every – and I mean every – person you meet has a fascinating, lesson-rich, gold nugget to share, something they’ve experienced or lived through that no one else has in quite the same way. (I would like to point out that, by definition, this includes your parents and grandparents, and then I’ll try to be quiet about that.)

Though this has evolved into one of my favorite fact-finding methods for cherry-picking the easy lessons of life, I don’t do it only because I’m pain aversive. I also try to practice learning from everyone because it makes life just plain old richer.

Try mining the gold nuggets while listening to others for just a day or two. See if life doesn’t seem a whole lot more interesting and a lot less painful when you practice learning from everyone. Then tell me what you learned: leave a comment.

Jesus' quote from Mark 6:4 about a prophet being without honor in his own country, town, home

LISTEN to everyone. LEARN from everyone.

* Yes, I know I say to be wary of anyone beating you over the head with everyone in the post Everyone does itIt is truly an awfully laaaaarrrge word. In this case, in my humble opinion, it’s warranted. Every one of us has a unique set of experiences, and that means our life story and what we’ve learned from it are also unique – and worth hearing.

© 2013 Teresa Layne Bennett
[Gold nugget photo credit: R.Weller/Cochise College]

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