What Cannot Be Taught Can Still Be Learned

The past couple of weeks have been rather difficult. I spent the weekend thinking about it, when I wasn’t writing, running, or cooking. Or, what I like to call the Trifecta of Distraction.

The thought that keeps echoing in my mind is, “How dare you?”

Three words. They mean a lot. They say a lot. I’m over here, fuming. I’m ticked off, and I’m flummoxed. Because if there’s one thing I know, it’s this: you don’t toss in the towel when things get tough. No, that’s when you pull on your kickass boots and find an ass to kick.

There are times where life is hard. Unimaginably so. Worse the Sisyphus and his damn boulder. Worse that Tantalus and his inability to eat or drink.

Get mad. Get indignant. Get going. Certainly, don’t give up. Because you know what happens then? Well, divide nothing by nothing, times it by nothing – and you get fuck all. Yeah, that’s right: nothing.

Believe me, there are times when I do not want to get out of bed. There are times where the last thing I want to do is talk to people. There are times I cannot talk about things, simply because I don’t have the words. Or the words hurt too much, like swallowing a bomb encased in broken glass. There are other times where I feel like I can’t take two steps in any direction.

To that, I say: bugger it.

Over the past year, I have seen a lot of things. I have seen people fumble the proverbial ball worse than Ray Finkle. (Laces out!) I have seen professionals act like children. I have seen compassion and dedication burn away like fog in the midday sun. I have seen countless people who SHOULD know better prove that an education doesn’t make you a better human being – or a more qualified one. No, it just means you sat through classes and managed not to fail.

You know what school doesn’t teach people? It doesn’t teach them how to fight. How to see a person in front of you and really see them. It doesn’t teach you how to dig your heels in and say, hell no, not me – not now. It doesn’t teach you how to be strong or how to be brave. It doesn’t teach you wisdom. It teaches you facts and reasoning.

But at the end of the day, no one is looking to be held by facts of logic. No one is looking be soothed and placated by impartiality. No, we’re all looking for courage, passion, and kindness.

So many people seem to missing the last one, although it is the simplest of things.

Nothing, except life, teaches you how to look someone in the eye – and refuse to walk away. It doesn’t matter the circumstances, or who this person is. A friend, a lover, a boss, a doctor, a priest, a stranger – whatever.

Ultimately, you make that choice. You make the choice to be a coward and an asshole. You make the choice to try and snuff out the last candle of hope someone might have. You make the choice to act like a callous person, who is more worthy of Tin Man (person) status than anything else.

It is a choice, and some people choose poorly. Some people fail to see the individual, looking at only the numbers. But numbers change. And there is always hope, always another way. And I’ll be damned if I let anyone tell me – or anyone I love – otherwise.

You can be smart and capable, but still not possess enough kindness to fill a thimble. You can be technically right, but fundamentally wrong.

Don’t let anyone dictate your truth. Don’t let anyone squash your drive or your heart. And the next time someone looks at you, with a mix of pity and boredom, you have my permission to call them a coward and prove them wrong.

And when you do, I want to hear about it.

“I’ve been making a list of the things they don’t teach you at school. They don’t teach you how to love somebody. They don’t teach you how to be famous. They don’t teach you how to be rich or how to be poor. They don’t teach you how to walk away from someone you don’t love any longer. They don’t teach you how to know what’s going on in someone else’s mind. They don’t teach you what to say to someone who’s dying. They don’t teach you anything worth knowing.”
Neil Gaiman, The Sandman, Vol. 9: The Kindly Ones

“All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” ― St. Francis of Assisi

  1. Alicia Marie Phillips
    November 7, 2011 at 9:09 am

    Another great post, Ali! Having known you for a few years now, I have seen your bravery and courage and your ability to handle any and everything with a great attitude and finesse. All while being the best writer i know! lol You’re definitely an idol of mine, for sure!

    • November 7, 2011 at 7:31 pm

      Alicia, you are really sweet — thank you for such a wonderful compliment (well, compliments). That really made me smile. 🙂

  2. November 7, 2011 at 11:27 am

    No, you’re not beardy enough to be 24601. ❤

    A lot of artists have a hell of a time staying motivated, simply because society (and loved ones) want us to "succeed" by their terms. They don't realize that we can't just give it up. It's not something we DO, it's what we ARE. But artists are an isolated lot for the most part. We aren't starving only in our bellies, it's for understanding as well. I am lucky that my best friend is an artist, so she knows exactly how hard it can be to stay motivated in a world that resents you for not giving in to the pressure to conform. But fuck that. Like Fleetwood mac, I will go my own way. Because it is unfathomable to quit. You can't quit who you are. Not for long anyways.

    • November 7, 2011 at 7:30 pm

      You got the reference! That makes me very happy. You’re right, too, about society and motivation. It is totally what we are. It’s not a choice. It just is. One of my dearest (and most awesome) friends is an artist. And we’ve definitely had some good conversations about the pressures put on artists of any kind. And hell yes, Fleetwood Mac! I’ve always said that there is no right way. There’s what works for you. Definitely no quitting. *grin* Thank you very much for taking the time to read and comment! I’m really glad that you did!!

  3. November 7, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    Ali, sorry you’ve had a rough week. You’re post is so true, and I know I’ve learned not to judge people by credentials alone. I’ve met high school drop-outs with “questionable” past-times who have been kind and humble and giving, and I’ve met scholars with no more sense of heart than the definition in the dictionary. Keep writing and clomping around in your kick-ass boots. (loved that line!)

    • November 7, 2011 at 7:27 pm

      Thank you, Adrienne! I’m glad that this resonated with you — and that you liked that line. *grin* Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. 🙂

  4. Jessica
    November 7, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    I’ve been saying for ages that school in no way prepares people for the real world because it doesn’t teach you most of the things that are most important to know. (That being said, most of America would definitely benefit from a few more English classes…) I think there are two really important points you’re touching on here: First, that too few people learn how they should treat others. From things as simple as holding the door to things as complicated as dumping someone in a way that doesn’t involve text messaging, (which, REALLY, should not be that complicated…) I feel as though we live in an age where people forget to act with kindness, and more importantly, with respect. I feel that people have become so self-interested and self-involved that it doesn’t even occur to them to go out of their way to do something that helps someone else, or makes their life easier. It’s something you see if you just walk around any big city – nearly every person thinks that whatever they are doing is the most important thing going on in the world at the moment, and that everyone else should modify their behavior accordingly. The woman having the obnoxiously loud cell phone conversation thinks that everyone around her should shut up so she can hear, and not complain that she’s disrupting whatever it is that they’re doing. The man getting onto the train car doesn’t notice or care that there’s an elderly woman still trying to get off. The family of five doesn’t stop to think that by walking hand in hand across the entire sidewalk, they’re holding up commuters or forcing them to walk in the street near cars. As a woman, I feel like I get cut a little more slack because there are still some men who strive to be gentlemanly and do things like hold a door, but even that is not as common as it should be. The second thing is that in addition to becoming narcissistic jerks, we’ve also become extraordinarily lazy. You say that school does not teach us how to dig your heels in and fight – and you’re right, it doesn’t. But it shouldn’t have to. Shouldn’t we all have that drive in ourselves? Shouldn’t we all have that fire, and passion, and desire to succeed? I feel like we’re all lazy pushovers who are too disinterested to follow through on anything, so we simply shrug our shoulders and walk away from everything. The example I find myself pointing to most often are the divorce statistics for our country. It is now official that if you get married, you have a BETTER CHANCE OF GETTING DIVORCED than you do of having a long and happy marriage. Pardon my French, but WHAT THE FUCK!? There are so many things wrong with that, I can’t even begin. And honestly, I attribute a lot of it to people being lazy. I honestly think that people would rather just give up than fight for a relationship. And it’s sad.

    Sorry for writing so much, you just tend to get me worked up about things. Haha.

    As a total sidebar, I’m doing NaNoWriMo this year, and as I write, all I can think of is “Would Ali approve of this sentence?” Hahaha!

    • November 7, 2011 at 7:26 pm

      Jess, I love your comments, because they are well thought out and so passionate. Btw, when I mentioned that school doesn’t teach you how to dig your heels in and fight, I didn’t necessarily mean that it should. I don’t think it’s something that can be taught. Fostered, cultured, and cultivated — yes. Because it’s definitely not in a book. I think too many people give up (like your marriage/divorce point), and it’s because it’s easier. People can be lazy. It’s mind-boggling.

      Also, YAY for NaNoWriMo!!! I’m really glad that you’re doing it. And I’m totally honored that you’re thought that. *grin* Happy Writing!

  5. November 8, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    There are so many things that I adore about this post, one is the heart with which it was written, two is the word flummoxed, and lastly I love St. Francis of Assisi! oxox

    • November 8, 2011 at 10:29 pm

      Ana, you are so sweet! Thank you. Also, flummoxed is one of my favorite words. It’s fun to say! 🙂 I have that St. Francis quote on a bookmark that I’ve had forever. It’s one of my favorites.

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