Ever notice, after we’ve been doing something for a while, how we tend to forget that we were ever new at it to begin with? Whatever it is we learned becomes second nature and we forget altogether that we ever had to figure out how to do it in the first place.
You know, stuff like riding a bike or playing an instrument or hula hooping. It’s like once we’re solid with whatever we’re trying to absorb, the memory of the actual learning process just fades to the back of our brain and lives there quietly forever.
Funny how that happens, isn’t it? Personally, I think it’s amazingly cool how it all works. The whole science of how our brains learn new skills absolutely fascinates me. I mean, neurons are being stimulated, connections are being formed, skills are being embedded. (I don’t know about you, but that just lights me right up.) It’s a pretty intricate and miraculous process when you really think about it.
I think that sometimes, though, in spite of how amazing it is to learn something new, we can be a little too quick to forget that we were once newbies who had to learn how to do everyday things. And because we forget, that can cause us to become intolerant of other people when they’re struggling to learn the same things. Sound at all familiar?
Take driving, for instance. It’s something that any of us who are on the road today (all 240 million-plus of us) had to learn how to do before we were allowed to get behind any wheels, yet somehow many of us seem to forget that small factoid when we’re on the road behind a slow driver.
We forget that we were once the cautious, timid new driver trying to get our bearings. That we weren’t born with Indy-driver judgement and reflexes. (As much as many of us would like to think we were.) That we didn’t have a clue what the hell to do when we were boxed in by dual eighteen-wheelers, in the middle lane, on the highway, and we needed to get off at the next exit. That we don’t just instinctively know the most direct route to the mall since our parents were always driving.
We had to learn this stuff, regardless of how capable we were right out of the gate. Because that’s the thing. Life is not a level playing field. And we’re not all born with the same ability levels or confidence or motivation. So that means we learn at a different pace and sometimes that pace is decidedly ahead or significantly behind the people around us. Yet, uncannily, most of us figure it all out just the same.
And that happens to be the exact situation I’m in right now with my youngest daughter—right smack in the thick of teaching her how to drive. (And all that that implies.) So, consequently, I’m finding myself reaching back to that part of my brain that remembers what it’s like not to have good judgement or instincts.
But even more importantly, I’m crossing my fingers that all the other nice people out on the roads with us will remember, too. Because the very last thing that a conscientious beginner driver needs is for some impatient idiot to lean on his horn while they’re counting One, Mississippi… Two, Mississippi at every stop sign. Cause it doesn’t help the learning process at all when the people around you can’t support you while you’re trying to do the right thing.
In fact, it only creates more fear and self-doubt in our kids if the people around them—the adults around them—are intolerant and belligerent. Not exactly the best behavior modeling, if you know what I mean.
Then why the sudden focus on this? Well, the obvious reason is because I’ve got a kid out there learning how to drive and I’m hopeful that you’ll all go easy on her as she’s riding the learning curve. That maybe you won’t be so quick to throw up a middle finger when she’s trying to parallel park. That maybe you’ll bite your tongue instead of rolling down your window and yelling something mean when she’s on Point Two of her Three-Point Turn. The second thing I’m hoping to accomplish is to spawn a whole new level of self-awareness in people that enables us all to take a step back when we’re feeling intolerant with other people.
So that’s my point. Be patient with newbies. Don’t compartmentalize too deeply the fact that you were a newbie once too, at some point. Be a little compassionate and tolerant with those who are just starting out. Cause they need it. We all do.
Oh yeah, and if I catch you making a face when my kid is practicing her parallel parking, we’re gonna have ourselves a little problem…so be nice, dammit.
Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn/. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and at select Whole Foods Market stores.