Learning The Hard Way

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There’s an old cliché about learning from the school of hard knocks:

“Good judgment comes from experience; and experience? That comes from bad judgment.” It’s a humorous phrase, but there’s a lot of truth to it.

The classic example, of course, is the lesson to not touch a hot stove; the pain is sharp, immediate, and unforgettable, while the actual damage inflicted is usually minimal.

“The burned hand teaches best” is a pretty pragmatic take on the sometimes necessary process of learning through trial and error. On the extreme other end of the spectrum would be the kinds of lessons you really need to trust others’ judgments on, like not stepping in front of a speeding truck. You can come back from most bad decisions, but a few are irreversible.

We recently had the opportunity to witness this dynamic in a rather dramatic fashion. While playing outside, one child suffered a severe laceration on her finger as a result of throwing broken glass against a brick wall.

She came inside crying and dripping blood; after an initial attempt to staunch the flow of blood, we quickly realized the seriousness of the situation and rushed her off for proper medical attention.

Now, while I probably hadn’t specifically warned my children, “do not throw broken glass against walls,” I’m sure I’ve told them not to mess with trash, not to break things, and certainly not to play with broken glass.

The result was a painful and potentially dangerous wound that, thankfully, was promptly and properly treated by the doctors in the emergency room. This was the first time a child of ours had to get stitches—the incident, as well as the long recovery process, certainly made an impact on all our children.

On the whole, I’d say that it’s best to learn from wise advice in order to avoid most common pitfalls if at all possible. But just as some lessons simply have to be learned the hard way, perhaps some people have to learn hard lessons through personal experience.

I’ve noticed this variation in my children, some of whom operate in a much stronger “show-me” state than others. Sometimes I struggle to have the right attitude when dealing with those of my children who need a bit more convincing, because I can experience a great degree of inconvenience—and even irritation—from what really comes down to personality differences. It feels like such a waste of energy to repeat myself constantly, and to repeatedly have to follow through with check-ups and discipline. “Wouldn’t they be happier,” I think, “if they are making others happy?” Why do they have to make everything so difficult, for themselves and for others around them?

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But apparently, that’s just how some people need to learn. When I’m tempted to get frustrated with a child for not “getting it” and cooperating right away, I have to remind myself that I have my own ways of doing my own thing, which, of course, seem reasonable and logical to me in the moment. How many people might I have frustrated over the years when I don’t immediately fall in line with their plans? I’m grateful for God’s patience in our lives, and for the many second chances (and more) we receive after making mistakes.

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While, in this case, a verbal lesson may not have sufficed for the child in question, it appears that the vicarious lesson certainly left a lasting impression on the others. I doubt we’ll have any more children playing with broken glass after this.

Rose signature

Photo Credit: iStock. Following images courtesy of author.

 

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