learning beyond labels

The following originally appeared as an article in The Sign

Learning is intrinsic to our lives. Whether we are deliberately receiving education, or whether we are adapting to unexpected experience, every day is an opportunity to find out something new, to see life from another angle, or gain a new skill.

Much has been made of the fact we all learn differently. This is true. There is no ‘one size fits all’; our minds react to diverse stimuli and in diverse ways. We may learn best by listening or by interacting, by being alone or by being with others, in stillness or in movement.

However, even the ‘models’ people come up with to aid learning can never cover the complexity of us – you and me. There will always be those who don’t fit any of the ‘boxes’ or who claim two labels are valid, not one; there will be those who slide between classifications and categories. However hard we try to expand the boxes or create new ones, we will never be able to categorise the full diversity of human experience.

Our uniqueness means that we always have the potential to learn from one another, and also to teach someone else about the world from our distinct point of view.

Our different viewpoints and ways of interacting can make relationships a struggle sometimes, but they can also make them rewarding – we open ourselves up to the possibility of seeing things in new ways; we begin to discover how we can adapt our behaviour for the benefit of others. We see a little of what we’d like to become, not just what we are now.

Discipleship embraces the ideal of learning from another person, with real focus and intent. Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me” – easing his listeners away from all the boxes and labels that religious leaders had chosen to impose upon them. These were too tight, too rigid, too burdensome. A yoke is worn by oxen pulling a plough – but if it is over-heavy or ill fitting, the animals will not be able to work effectively, and may even be injured in the process.

“My yoke is easy,” Jesus said. Are we so busy trying to figure ourselves out that we forget how to be still and listen? We neglect to learn from Jesus, who had such compassion on the tired and the weary. Have we injured ourselves by placing unnecessary burdens on one another’s shoulders?

Learning from Jesus should refresh and energise us, because we are coming to one who knows us as we are, with all our leanings and tendencies, with all our hopes and scars. We come to Jesus, tired and weary, knowing there we find rest for our souls. In Jesus we learn what it means to be true disciples – and what it means to be human.

(Matthew 11:28-30)

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