Everyone knows one of the more common definitions of a teenager: A very young adult who thinks he or she knows everything. I know this for a fact, because I was at that stage of life once – and yes, I did think I knew everything. What a shock to discover I didn’t!
But the know-it-all misconception doesn’t cease with the passage of the teen years. We probably all have had times when we thought we knew more than anyone else, so we were unwilling to consider what they had to say. Especially regarding an important decision we were weighing. Sometimes it’s humbling to have to admit to someone, “I don’t know,” or to approach someone else for advice.
But evidence has shown that good leaders are good learners, and in some respect, we are all leaders. Every one of us has people that look up to us, or have chosen to follow us as their examples. It might be our children or grandchildren, coworkers or people that report to us at work, friends, or individuals we encounter at church. Presenting ourselves as know-it-alls is an excellent way to lead folks in the wrong direction.
How do we know this? President John F. Kennedy said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” But I value even more what the Bible says on the topic. The Old Testament book of Proverbs, a collection of timeless principles and probabilities, repeatedly addresses the importance of learning. For instance, Proverbs 23:13 urges us to. "Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge." In other words, make it a priority in your life.
Later in the same chapter we’re told the information and knowledge gained through the process of learning is a precious commodity: “Buy the truth and do not sell it; get wisdom, discipline and understanding” (Proverbs 23:23).
I have to confess there have been times when I was full of myself – eager to share the limited knowledge I had, but unwilling to consider viewpoints that differed from my own. Hopefully over time I’ve trained myself to become a better learner. Whether by reading books, exposing myself to newspaper and magazine columns that offer opinions that differ from my own, or having a friendly, meaningful discussion with someone who sees things differently than I do, I’ve learned much over the years.
Christian conferences and retreats have helped in that respect, hearing from a variety of speakers who challenged my thinking and preconceptions about what the Bible says, what it means, and how it relates to everyday living. And one of the great eye-openers is having a healthy interaction with someone from a different culture, ethnicity, or social group.
Seems to me that one of the maladies of modern society is a growing smugness, the unwarranted certainty that there’s nothing we can learn from people who don’t think exactly as we do. On some college campuses, students are actually being “protected” from worldviews and opinions contrary to their own. This amazes me – I always thought colleges were places young men and women went to learn, not to be indoctrinated.
Another valuable form of learning is when we receive much-needed correction from someone who cares enough to alert us about harmful thinking and behaviors, even if their constructive criticism may sting at that moment. I’m thankful for the men and women over the years who invested the time to set me straight when my path was becoming crooked. I like how Proverbs 25:12 puts it: “Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is a wise man’s rebuke to a listening ear.”
Albert Einstein, who clearly understood the value of learning, said, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” I’d venture to guess that 99 percent of the useful things I’ve learned in life came after my college years.
And for me, the greatest source for learning has been God’s Word, the Scriptures. I love the confidence expressed by King David, who wrote, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law” (Psalm 119:18).
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Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written hundreds of magazine articles, and authored, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly re-published, “Business At Its Best,” “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” He edits a weekly business meditation, “Monday Manna,” which is translated into more than 20 languages and distributed via email around the world by CBMC International. To read more of Bob Tamasy’s writings, you can visit his blog, www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com, or his website (now being completed), www.bobtamasy-readywriterink.com. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.