BEN’S ZONE: When Do Men Stop Wanting to Learn?

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Welcome to a weekly feature on my blog – Ben’s Zone. Written by husband… Ben. A foodie, coffee obsessed, ex-smoking, ex-drinking and Ridgeback loving Dad. Who is also seriously into his fitness.  You can find him on the blog (mostly) on Sundays. Enjoy!

When Do Men Stop Wanting to Learn?

Being taught about stuff is a funny thing.  For the first 16-18 years we’re around it’s a simple fact of life.  We’re taught to feed ourselves, to dress, to read and from then on more complex skills to help us in our lives and our jobs.  Most of us, when leaving formal education then spend time learning a job. I learned how databases and Unix servers worked from a lady called Debbie and some guys called Bernard, Karl and David.  And then at some point, we stop being taught. We don’t seem to stop wanting to know new stuff, but rather than follow the pattern that has served us until now, finding someone who knows how to do something and learning from them, we employ a new model, reading and watching. But why is this?

One thing, I think is modern life itself. We swim in a sea of information day in day out. Computing power greater than that which sent people to the moon exists in all of our pockets.  At the touch of a button we have access to vast encyclopedias, libraries full of books and with this vast knowledge, what need do we have for teachers?

When a man wishes to enter a hobby, be it sport, music or anything else that holds our interest the first thing we do is buy a bunch of kit.  It doesn’t matter how poor we are at the execution, when we have access to professional quality equipment made of carbon fibre and titanium, how could we not be successful?  This is particularly true of older men for whom finances are often more stable than young bucks.

So given the vast amount of information we have and the flawless equipment, what use do we have for teachers in this day and age?  I think I’d turn that question around and say, given that we learn all the really important early life type stuff with teachers, why would we change a model that works so well?  Anyone who has done any amount of home schooling over the last year should be under no illusions about teaching being a whole ton more than just giving people access to information and letting them read it.

No amount of video lessons or powerpoint shows can replace another human being sitting with someone and imparting their skills.  A good teacher can see which bits of information have gone in and which need to be reinforced.  When something has not sunk in, teachers can reframe it or perhaps give more context to help the student understand, youtube videos fall short here.  

Moreover, teachers know their students.  My guitar teacher knows when it’s OK for me to be in my comfort zone and he knows when I should be pushing my boundaries.  When I learn on my own my natural tendency towards perfectionism means that I resist moving on from a topic until I feel I have fully mastered it.

In reality this means that my progress is stilted and slow.  A good teacher understands when the student has internalised a concept and can move on, even if it’s not perfected just yet.

Finally, for me, an advantage of a teacher is they curate the lessons they share to provide a structured learning path.  Yes, there are youtube videos that cover literally every known guitar technique, but which ones of those are relevant to me and my learning is something my guitar teacher really knows.

If I’m going to be blunt, I think it comes down to ego.  Once we get to a certain age men don’t want to be taught any more.  We may have mastered our key skills in our career, we may have other people looking towards us for teaching and guidance and so it becomes difficult to submit to the guidance of another even in a limited way.

Our positions may make us the ‘breadwinner’, the maker of decisions (although modern life is not like this anymore, of course, the concept still sits there at the back of our minds) and it seems sometimes too hard to climb down from that and acknowledge to ourselves that we need or want to learn something that we don’t know how to do.  So rather than finding a teacher and learning, we spend hours on youtube or Facebook watching videos and buying kit but making no real progress.

As I head further into my 40s I become more aware that my time on this planet is not limitless.  I hope there’s a load left yet, but I’m not a teenager any more and I want maximum fun and progression in the things I do without any wasted time.

It’s really only over the last year that I’ve realised that the way to do this is to accept tuition and, equally as importantly, to be teachable.  In both my music and also my fitness activities I have found that working with a teacher and being open to the ideas they present has accelerated my progress far beyond what I was achieving on my own.

Additionally, by remaining teachable, in allowing my mind to be open and accepting that there are limits to my knowledge I feel less under pressure.  As men, often we are expected to provide answers, to know how to fix things from toys to houses and the reality is, often we don’t. We’re winging it, hoping to pull it off and hoping that no one sees behind the scenes.  It’s insanely stressful to have all that on your shoulders and too many men fall down as a result.

When we say we need to be taught, we admit our knowledge is incomplete and while this may feel uncomfortable in the first instance that admission and becoming teachable is a step towards freedom.

Our species is successful precisely because we can transmit knowledge to one another without having to rely on crazy biological instinct and race memory.  By continuing to use this skill as our lives progress we become better able to achieve our personal goals and happier people as a result.

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