Don Paglia | Marriage and Family Counseling. Constellations Workshops


Tip #46:

“Reading about baseball is a lot more interesting than reading about chess, but you have to wonder:  Don’t any of these guys ever go fishing?” 

Dave Shiflett, quoted in Houston Chronicle, 29 April 1990

Tom, a brilliant bio-mechanical engineering PhD, was one of the most book-smart people I’ve ever met. He would expound at theoretical levels and speak at ease on esoteric concepts in ways that would dazzle any listener. But when it came to doing the simplest of things, like replacing a faulty plug on the end of an extension cord, Tom was completely lost. He probably knew the origin and inventor of the screwdriver; he simply had difficulty using one.

There is smart and then there is street smart. Each of us has our own area(s) of brilliance, and also our preferred way of learning. Some of us are auditory learners; some are visual learners; and some learn best kinesthetically. Visual learners draw upon the use of maps, charts, graphs, diagrams and pictures. They use visual images in order to absorb information, and they benefit from visual aids to help explain concepts and ideas.

Auditory learners benefit from hearing and listening to things like presentations and lectures. Audio recordings and group discussions help them as well. They will often close their eyes and “see” while they listen and will make mental pictures of what is being presented. These are the folks that can identify a song with three or four notes, or who listen intently to podcasts while driving. They are people who problem-solve when they dream or close their eyes to think.

Kinesthetic learners learn best when they are afforded hands-on, tactile experiences. They especially do well with physical activities in order to apply new information. Outdoor demonstrations, science fairs, and labs are their paradise. These are the people who do well with on-the-job training. Apprenticeships in various fields requiring manual or physical tasks, such as automotive repairs, plumbing and electrical work are, among others, arenas kinesthetic people excel.   

 Teachers sometimes don’t take different learning styles into account and teach mostly from one style. Usually they teach in the style most suited to their own learning preference. They’ll then miss the other students that aren’t learning the lesson or learning it well. It may be more of a teaching problem than that of a learning problem. Effective teachers teach in all three styles.

To expand some:

If the lesson is about, say, the railroad and how trains advanced through history, a superior teacher would incorporate the three styles into the lessons. Pictures and films, as well as, lectures can be presented for visual learners. Auditory learners could be incorporated into gaining understanding through stories with actual whistles and the sounds of steam and electric trains, and of train wheels turning, the chugging sounds as a train picks up speed, and so on. Kinesthetic learning would come by having the students go to an actual train station. There students would have an opportunity to climb in and out of train cars, experience the comings and goings of passengers and conductors. Getting to walk out onto the track stop and go through the train car doors, sitting in the seats, and touching various parts of the trains would give these students hands-on experiences.

The reality is that we all tend to benefit and learn best when all three of these styles get presented. This anonymous saying expresses this sentiment well.

“I hear and I forget.

I see and I remember.

I do and I understand.”

One of our sons attended a small New Haven high school. This school is right at the water front of New Haven harbor facing Long Island Sound. As part of the curriculum, each student in a small group, and with supervision, were tasked with building a small sailing boat. The boat, called a Sharpie, which is a small harbor oyster-fishing boat that dates back from early colonial times. The students had to build their boat in the school’s wood shop, and then successfully sail it. It was an extremely exciting moment when these small boats were actually launched. The learning that resulted from this project had so many academic and technical learning experiences that came during the course of the project. This entire project was priceless.   

Possibly with the exception of Jeopardy, the smartest people usually are not the ones who win the trophies or ribbons or the prize money. It’s the ones who roll up their sleeves, pay close attention, and figure out things. They problem-solve. In doing so they make mistakes. From such a process they also discover that so-called mistakes come with learning. Mistakes actually become quite beneficial. Learners understand the idea of a learning curve.

“True wisdom comes from experience.

Experience is often the result of lack of experience.”

Terry Pratchett

On many occasion I have chided a struggling married couple in counseling that their problem is that when they got married no one gave them the “definitive marriage manual.” I’m implying, of course, that there is NO such manual.

There are, of course, countless books and manuals as well as courses and programs regarding marital relationships – some good and some not-so-good. But ultimately none of these can account for every possible dynamic a couple will encounter. Each couple needs to learn from their own hands-on learning, on-the-job experiences of day-to-day couple living. They will make their share of mistakes, and then, successful couples use these mistakes to figure out ways to improve. With perseverance they grow from and through them.

Numerous manuals offer decent guidelines with helpful suggestions, but do not offer any sure-fire, quick-fix methods or techniques to automatically fix things. I use several of them when guiding couples in learning to how to grow and better manage their conflict – conflict that comes with any relationship. One excellent book and one I often promote is: The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, by John Gottman. Another excellent one is Getting the Love You Want, by Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt.

But the most important thing to realize is there is no one extraordinary, or definitive, marital relationship. There is only your extraordinary marital relationship.

If you want a great self-growth program all you need to do is: (1) get married, (2) get a job, and (3) have a kid or two. With this you will be confronted by all sorts of challenges that you will have to contend with. You will be tested. EVERYTHING will show up! You’ll be forced to figure out what to do with this and this and this…Thus you’ll be confronted by these things that potentially cause you to grow. The common saying, “that which doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger,” often rings true in so many ways.

Like other essays, I haven again taken liberty in giving my own spin regarding what a fishing quote is saying. I believe the one cited conveys the vast difference between merely reading about something vs. actually doing it or taking action. Reading about baseball, or chess, or even fishing, never offers anything close to what the actual doing the activity can provide.

I have a friend whose grandparents when they died left each of their grandchildren a significant amount of money to use only for either: (1) getting a college education, or (2) for serious traveling.  My friend’s grandparents understood that while college can broaden one’s mind, so too can traveling to experience first-hand different places and cultures. Traveling and living in other parts of the world will likely broaden one’s otherwise limited perspective significantly.

I drifted a bit from fishing, but you may have picked up on the idea of how both action and contemplation are important in order to engage effectively in our relationships, and in life in general. If so, then, perhaps, you’ll forgive some of my long-winded idea salad.

To this I say, Thank you.