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The Science Of Learning

Learning to drive

My daddy taught me how to drive when I was just 12 years old and living in Texas, and he taught me on an automatic transmission, not a stick shift. We always had automatics growing up ─ I never had to learn how to use a clutch and shift. During college I decided I needed to learn how to drive a stick. I asked several people to teach me and finally found someone who would. Too bad I didn’t have some kind of an interview process before engaging the services of this particular “friend.” What I didn’t know was that he was not a patient teacher.

Quite the contrary. He was completely overbearing, shouting at me, barking orders and laughing at me when I began to roll backward on an uphill slope, kind of freaking out about it. Well, that was enough for me. I put the car in first gear, didn’t engage the clutch or shift as I drove right back to the parking lot and stopped the engine, got out, and caught a ride back home. Enough of that.

Later, I had another person try to teach me. What a different experience that was. This friend was patient and calm, reassuring of my little mistakes (like grinding the gears) and very encouraging. As a result, learning to drive a stick shift car was much easier, and I was much less agitated.

What I learned

This experience taught me something I had always heard and read about, but had not really experienced so blatantly. Jesus and the Buddha both taught about treating others with compassion and kindness. Jesus said in the book of Matthew, “I give you a new commandment, to love one another as I have loved you,” while Buddha said, “Out of the abundance of your heart, cultivate love and compassion for all beings.” In the apocryphal Gospel of the Hebrews, Jesus said to Judas, upon being asked how to start upon the spiritual path, to be “kind and loving.” Buddha also said, “Encourage goodwill in the world by being charitable and kind.”

These two contrasting experiences revealed to me how it felt to be both treated in a way at odds with this universal teaching and treated in a way that embraced these mantras. I think that there is no better way to internalize a spiritual teaching than having an experience which solidifies the importance of the teaching. Even though it was painful to be so mistreated by the first, so-called “friend” who was trying to help me, the lesson I learned was powerful.

Have you ever experienced something so unpleasant that you learned an indelible lesson about how to treat others? Or better yet, how NOT to treat others?