Learning from Others
I would like to dedicate this post and exercise to those that have sought out this site, despite the differences, hardships, and taboos that they might have experienced in doing so. You know who you are. Your courage and positivity is something I admire every day, and your reaching out has kept me going even through difficult times. It is because of you that I know that peace on this earth is possible, and that is the greatest gift that you can give someone. Thank you.
Every person on this earth has something to give that I lack.
Every human being that I pass on the street has something amazing to teach me that no other person can.
This simple idea has revolutionized the way that I see the world. It has changed the way that I move through life and how I interact with others. It is the one thing that I wish I could keep in the forefront of my mind at all times. It is the lesson that is taught by ben Zoma in Pirkei Avot 4:1. “Who is wise? He who learns from all people.” When read simply, it is already revolutionary. It shatters the competitive, hierarchal concept of wisdom that many of us have been taught. When taken to a deeper level, it says so much more. It shows us that every single being is essential. Many of us are aware that every soul comes from the same source and therefore we should strive for connection and unity. Why then, are the differences so noticeable? This small sentence gives us a glimpse into the answer; The reason why each soul is different is so that we can learn to learn from each other.
This is such and amazing way to live life. Imagine how your life would look if you were able to keep this knowledge with you at all times? How would arguments look? Traffic jams? Shmoozing? Grocery shopping? Facebook debates?
But I want to take it further. This is a concept that I have held dear to my heart for a long time and now, I want to make it real. I have a plan on how I’m going to do this, and I want to invite all of you to join me. I really believe that if everyone tries this, just for a week, we will see huge changes in the world!
So first of all, keep holding on to this concept. Keep repeating to yourself “every person has something to teach me”.
But now, it’s time to really live it. It’s time to apply this wisdom and learn these lessons that others are teaching. It’s one thing to acknowledge that everyone has something to teach me, and it’s quite another to try to figure out what exactly that is. And even further, I want to take this wisdom and truly learn it. I want to make it a part of me.
So here’s what we are going to do!
1. Select five people at random:
There are a few ways of going about this. You can randomly select people off of your facebook list, phone, or work/shul directory. However, this doesn’t give you people from other areas of your life. You can also make categories and then select the first person that comes to your mind once you make that category (no cheating!) Some categories could be: a person that I am very close to (family, friend, coworker), a public service/employees (cashier, bus driver, mail man), a person from my past (elementary school, childhood), a person I wish I knew better, a person I’ve never met in person (author, composer, public figure), a distant relative, friend of a friend, a person who I really dislike.
Either way, decide on your selection method and pick people. Do this quickly. You don’t want to put too much thought into the selection (because it should be random!) Write these five people on a list with space after each name for note taking.
2. Start thinking and writing:
Spend at least a few minutes on each person. Some will take longer than others. Take the time to visualize this person and what you know about them. Think about this person’s life and their positive attributes. Think about what you would like to learn from him or her, and what you hope to apply to yourself and your own life. Start writing them down beside the name. For some of the people on your list, you will have to stretch yourself a bit more. This is good. It’s part of the exercise. If it’s a person that you truly don’t know and can’t find much information on, maybe guarding one’s privacy is something that you can learn from him/her. If it’s a person that irritates you, maybe it’s his/her honesty, sticking to core beliefs despite disagreement, determination or chutzpah that you can learn from. If it’s someone that you have nothing in common with, maybe there is an area in your life that you could try new things and open new doors which this person emulates. If it’s someone close or very similar to you, find the areas in which there are differences, and what you can learn from those. When you are at the end of this stage, you should have five names, each with some descriptive words/sentences afterward.
3. Narrow it down:
Take a look at your list. From each person, take one thing that you want to learn from him/her. Find one concept, word or phrase to describe that which you want to learn from this person. Once you are done each person and have narrowed it down to five things, take those five and write them down on a list.
Here is my list:
On the back of the list, make sure that you write the people down who have inspired your learning these life lessons. After working with this list for a bit of time, you shouldn’t need to look at those names to remember from whom it is that you’re learning. You should be able to visualize the person when looking at each one of your teachings. This visualization is an important part of the exercise. Not only will it help you emulate these attributes and make them a part of you, it will help deepen your appreciation for the person.
5. Place the list and/or make copies:
Make sure you put your list somewhere where you’ll see it often. It’s also a good idea to make copies and put it on your fridge, desk, in your wallet, bathroom mirror, etc. Select at least one time to review your list every day. The best times would be in the morning so you know what you want to strive for during the daytime, and at night so you can reflect on how you did. I’m planning on spending some time with my list after saying my morning berachot, and before brushing my teeth at night. Beyond these times, your list should be in a place (or places) where you will see it quite a few times a day. Use the lessons on your list to influence your behavior during the day and help you with decisions that you need to make. Throughout the week, these characteristics should become more and more a part of you.
Please share your lists and let me know how it goes! Let’s see if we can do this every week :)
I hope that through doing this exercise, we will learn how to truly learn from each other. It’s one thing to admire someone from afar and acknowledge their attributes, but it’s a whole other level to pinpoint these admirable characteristics and apply them to the way that you live. I hope that we can all realize that there is something to be learned from even those that we don’t know well. If we fine-tune our vision, we can start seeing others so much more clearly and start learning from the wealth of knowledge that the world presents us with every person that we encounter.