There’s a quote from my dad that I used in my fellowship application that seems appropriate to also start this learning log.
“If you don’t know where you’re headed, any direction will do.”
Like a lot of things with our relationship, my dad and I had different interpretations of this line. While I heard it as an affirmation that I was doing the right thing by exploring (oftentimes without much forethought) and seeing where things led me, he (on the other hand) meant it as an admonishment of my shiftless and wayward meanderings. Truth is - we were both a little right.
I’ve thought about how the learning process can feel contradictory a lot during these past six months. I feel, at the exact same moment, purposeful and lost. Like I’m onto something, but I have no idea what. And as I move forward, every answered question produces two or three new unanswered ones that make me wonder if I’m actually up to this challenge because this is a big, hairy, complex beast of an issue I’ve chosen to tackle in a public way and aren’t there smarter people out there doing something already about this so who am I to think that I’m somehow going to make anything better by chasing down these rabbit-holes that might not lead anywhere and…
...sometimes any direction will do.
There have been many moments on this learning journey where I’ve needed to compartmentalize my self-doubt and accept that I don’t know exactly where this will go, but I have a solid foundation of a goal and I know that I won’t stray too far afield from that. So I go exploring (just not as blindly as I used to), and I understand that if I’m feeling purposeful AND lost at the same time, then that means I’m doing the right thing. When I am really pushing past my current abilities - really learning in a deeper sense - it feels frightening and risky because it’s more than just learning new knowledge.
Certainly, gaining knowledge is important, and this fellowship has given me ample opportunities over the past few months to do just that from various people, experiences and books. Accumulating knowledge is an exciting thing for me, because I love gathering information and then starting to see connections and nuances that weren’t present in my mind before. But the journey I’m on is so much more than just vacuuming up facts. It’s about learning how to interact with the world around me in a more powerful way and, in so doing, make meaningful change in my community.
It also means I need to be willing to be proven wrong on this journey. Where I started and what I believed to be the “right” course is not the same thing that I believe now. Sometimes it was easy to accept that I had bum information and that I just needed to replace it with better, more sound facts. But other times it’s a painful, vulnerable feeling, and when it gnaws at my core I know that I’m also learning something important - that it’s something that I need to pay thoughtful attention to. The reality is that learning isn’t always joyful. There have been days along this journey that I’ve had to honestly step back and examine the mistakes I’ve made in my past. Those decisions that in the light of this new privileged place where I stand lays bare the ignorance of my actions or beliefs.
Truth be told, it’s in these moments that I understand my dad’s perspective so much better. There’s no doubt which direction I should go and claiming that I don’t know where I should head is a lie. It’s only a question of whether I have the courage to acknowledge my mistake and, in so doing, explicitly set out on a new road.
The true challenge of this learning journey is not only balancing this in myself, but then externalizing it with those around me. Like I said, I’m clear that I’m on this path to create change in my community - to move towards a better, more just reality where we honor the humanity in all of our elders and treat them with the dignity and respect. But to choose change requires me and those around me to accept new knowledge, recognize mistakes when we’ve made, and collectively move towards this better place. And all the self-doubt, hopefulness, confusion, shame, excitement, anxiety that I feel gets multiplied by the number of people I’m working with.
But the good news is, if I do all I can to maximize the learning opportunity this fellowship offers, we’ll all be headed in the same direction towards something wonderful.