Smart Learning When the World Around Me is Not a “Fit”

This blog is never really going to be finished–there’s so much more that I could add.  So I”ll likely revise and continue this as the months and years go on.  But for now, I’m sharing my initial reflections, having been stimulated to thought by the Forbes article I’m sharing below.

I personally have had the hardest lesson about how to be a ‘smart learner’ in my experience with what is commonly held to be “teamwork” or “collaboration.” I think it might be interesting to consider how one can maintain his/her cultural and spiritual values when working in an environment or culture that is at odds with it. For me, the challenge has not been so much in keeping my own values clear, but in resisting the obvious need to let go of a belief that I could ever be fully seen or embraced as part of the dominant culture and values system which permeates the field I work in. I have a lot of skills which I’ve come to recognize have served to ‘hide’ my difference, and so routinely, over the years since my latter years in college, I’ve had to do major “re-boots” of the way I was spending my time. With an absence of cultural mentors and elders in y field who share my background, there really has been no source of learning to recognize what was happening but my own reflection and observation over the years. Now, as I move into my elder years, and as my energies are filtering into a more permanent pattern of dedication and commitment, it is painfully apparent how very little “fit” there is culturally between the field in which I obtained my degree and have worked, and my worldview. It has been my interest and dedication to learning about the topics within that field that has sustained me–but my ideological and epistemological colleagues have existed in the humanities, in ethnic studies, in theatre, dance, and the arts.

So what I would venture to say is the first aspect of smart learning for me, as a heterosexual Chicana in the field of human communication is to realize that I am a visitor, no matter how long I have been in the field, and that the notions of collaboration and teamwork, of group dialogue and creativity, initiative and recognition, are aspects of my work that must be nurtured and fostered outside of my field. Except for a few instances, working with some rather outstanding individuals, the majority of “opportunity” in my field invites me to assimilate and reflect norms for human relationships and social routine that distance me from myself if I do not have a ‘second’ or ‘third’ life where I can be replenished and restored on a routine basis. Over time, this is exhausting.

The second thing I would say that I’ve learned as part of ‘smart learning’ is that the work to which I dedicate myself should be work that replenishes me, rather than work that requires me to perform an adapted anglo-American socio-cultural self for the majority of my interactions. So, my work with the Four Seasons of Ethnography, Art as Meditation, Mindful Heresy, and Self-Reflection as Method….all of these are concepts and domains in my work that I can continue to work with regardless of who is, or isn’t, collaborating with me.

Third, I think that one of the most vital aspects of smart learning for me, given that these are the conditions of my professional employment, is the nurturing of a spiritual life that allows me to continue to value the human spirit, and to recognize it, especially when present in cultural bodies and routines that are harsh and difficult for me, despite the years of experience I have with them. To be a smart learner, I have to see that I can learn from everyone, that even the least supportive and culturally sensitive of my colleagues has something of value to offer with his/her presence. But that does not mean that I can, should, or will, ever become part of that culture. As much as I can come to understand it, it is still not the way I see the world when left to my own reflexes.

Fourth, as a smart learner, I rest. And I don’t lie to myself. Because in many respects, I’ve come to learn that being a smart learner is like being a spiritual warrior. And that’s what makes my life, even when the most challenging, absolutely beautiful—and why I love learning, and value my life.

Everybody wants to be smarter. Unfortunately, not all of us will get there. There is a distinct line between smart learners and those who just learn. The former become…

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