Confidence in Learning

I recently heard a wonderful story retold from a book called “Landmarks” by Margaret Silf. In this story a woman is hiking late one afternon in the Welsh hill country when a storm blows in upon her. As she nears a barren peak, the wind starts to gale and storm clouds begin to boil in the dark sky. She continues to climb higher and at the very top she finds a solitary triangulation stone, a landmark that marks the highest point of her walk. As the wind gains intensity, she finds it hard to stand upright in the increasing gale, and she ducks behind the tall flat stone for shelter. The wind whips around it, gathers strength, and gusts furiously. There on the top of that rocky point, pushed dangerously from all directions by the gale force wind, she finds it hard to keep her balance, crouched down behind the stone.

Then it occurs to her, that her position behind the stone is not the best place to weather that storm. So she moves in front of the stone and lies on it, with her back against its flat, smooth surface. As the wind blows harder and harder into her face, it only blows her more firmly onto that stable stone, and she can watch the storm come in and pass with the confidence that she will not be swept off that peak by the wind and not be harmed by it.

Margaret Silf asks ‘what is that stone?’ For some people it might be faith, or truth, or maybe it could be learning. What gives us confidence when things are unpredictable around us? What do we use as our triangulation stone? And is it something that we hide behind or that we lean against as we face whatever our environment blows towards us? When it comes to our learning, we are the experts; that can only give confidence when we know how to apply it in many different and sometimes unpredictable situations.

I have the pleasure to work and interact with a group of young professionals in our organization, and sometimes they want for support from other levels of management, and they are curious about how they can weather the changes they see all around them (aren’t we all?) Yet, we are learning so much about how to manage our environments (both natural and institutional). Can we notice this more, value it more, apply it more? Can this be our triangulation stone – can we find confidence in learning?

4 replies
  1. Cecilia
    Cecilia says:

    I like the idea of learning being our triangulation stone. You could also name this ‘experience’, the one that you acquire throughout the years by learning: through your parents, friends, hard times, happy times, etc.

    In order to learn you also need to be an observer. Detach yourself from situations and being able to see them as learning experiences.

    One also learns from other people’s mistakes and experiences; not only your own, especially, if you’ve been nearby and have experienced these first hand.

    This also reminds me of a well-known phrase which says: “the devil knows better because he’s old, not because he’s a devil”.

    I think that when you are aware that you’ve been learning throughout the years and still are, it gives you enough confidence in yourself and you don’t need to hide behind anything. “You can watch the storm come in and pass with the confidence that you will not be swept off or harmed by it.”

    Thanks for this nice story.

  2. Parag
    Parag says:

    Very nice story.

    I agree that learning can be our triangulation stone. At the same time the attitude with which we learn is equally important.

    We must make every attempt to understand underlying concepts rather than just gain knowledge to get the immediate work done. This understanding will help us extrapolate our existing body of knowledge into totally unrelated situations, thus making sense of something by virtue of our knowledge in other fields.

    The story does mention facing the storm lying against the stone, rather than hiding behind it. I am sure this attitude takes case of a lot of things… What are your thoughts on attitude towards learning?

    Thanks for the post.


  3. Harold Jarche
    Harold Jarche says:

    Great metaphor. When hiding behind the stone, you cannot face what is coming.

    This is similar to Newton’s, “If I have seen farther it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants” statement. We need to use our learning & experience to see farther, not to hide behind.

  4. Gillian
    Gillian says:

    Dear Cecilia, Parag and Harold, Thanks for these great comments!

    Parag, I completely agree that we should not get caught up in the data, what you call the knowledge to just get things done, but the real value is trying to understand the underlying causes or structures behind things. That helps us more easily transfer our insights to other, similar situations (although they might not be similar at the data level, they might share underlying causes). You sound like a systems thinker – are you? Cheers, Gillian

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