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Learning Together

A high school teacher of mine, a talented woman with an advanced degree who knows a thing or two about education, told me a story once which I found to be quite interesting and relevant to my studies as a high school student. This individual graduated from high school with significant academic honors, but there was a different student who actually scored several points higher than she did on the ACT. He was a hair’s breadth away from a perfect score. Unfortunately, there was a discrepancy in his gifting.

Though he could score in the top half of one percent, and though he was recognized for his impressive intelligence among his classmates, he had absolutely no interaction with anything or anyone beyond his textbooks. There are many characteristics to be analyzed within this story, but the aspect to be keyed in on for the sake of this piece is his social exposure. Without interpersonal contact, the opportunity for social development and educational enhancement was forfeited. His high school experience was of less quality than it could have been because he took not the time to pursue the people around him.

Humans are intended to live in community. You see this in patterns that consistently repeat themselves across the globe, regardless of nationality, religion, or language. Families consistently serve as the cornerstone of society. Billions of dollars are spent on recreational events and social experiences. Social media platforms and the explosive rise of the internet seem to have satiated a human desire to connect on the broadest scale history has seen. Humans are intended to live in community.

Of course, there are exceptions. Some people function well with fewer interactions than others. Others, due to some limitation, are hampered in their ability to communicate effectively. This is fine! For the majority of college-bound individuals, however, inability is not as great an obstacle as is unintentionality. Seeking out other people in an educational atmosphere can open up new worlds for you, as new experiences and perspectives are offered to counter or supplement your own. A plurality of ideas leads to a collaborative environment rich with potential. Here are five ways to live and learn in community so your experience may develop depth and breadth unreachable without the aid of others.

Be available.

The battle for intentional effort to connect with others begins long before you see the first stranger of the day. You must begin your mornings, or whenever you wake up, with a positive inward attitude. You could fake every other aspect of relationship, but if you don’t want to connect with others there will be no true connection on any level. There is no ability to project positivity or openness if it is not inwardly existent.

To have such a positive inward attitude, to be available for those which the day brings, dwell on the good which you have experienced with others. Yes, people are difficult to be around sometimes. The relationships, however, are blessings if you are available for them. So desire to interact! Starting your days with a positive inward attitude of openness toward others is the first step toward learning together, and it will give you the proper framework within which to pursue others to such an end.

Be approachable.

Having a good inward attitude of availability is a good first step toward learning in community. You must remember, though, attitude is equally as important externally as it is internally. The people you are around will know whether you are open to them by how you treat them.

To avoid pushing people away before you even speak with them, firstly respect them. Even in the midst of differences, however alien those differences may seem, all people are deserving of dignity and some form of respect. If your initial attitude tends to be more exclusive than inclusive, you probably aren’t respecting others very well. You do not have to be best friends with everyone, but diversity of thought and personhood within a student population are essential to a well-rounded education. Respect this reality, and respect those who embody it.

To avoid pushing people away before you even speak with them, secondly show interest in them. Everyone loves to talk about themselves. Many are prone to expounding on their own experiences before showing interest in others. By interacting in an unconventionally kind way, you are more apt to draw others in.

When one is approachable, they are externally welcoming of others. They respect and show interest in those around them, thus engaging many. This allows for a warm atmosphere in which to learn with others.

Be accepting.

Accepting others where they are is not an abstraction. One who is accepting of others is an actively observant and subsequently reactive individual whose tangible service and companionship depends only on the personhood of their counterpart. Accepting others in the theoretical plane while sitting back and waiting for people to flock to you is incredibly presumptuous-presumptuous of your preeminent intelligence or capacity to captivate the interest of others. Avoid this haughtiness, and actively pursue the people around you. Let your acceptance be a catalyst. You’ll find a host of persons with much to offer you who were merely waiting for someone to share with.

Accepting one’s identity is easier than the second part of acceptance, accepting the ideas of those persons, happens to be. Accepting new and different ideas means you have moved beyond acceptance of the individual and must allow their ideas to meet your own ideas for combat. I do not present this point as a defense for a truth-less existence where there are not absolutes. I present it to say many people are unable to develop better ideas, or good ideas in the first place, because they are not willing to be open to consideration of the viability new information brings to the table. The best principles will always win out, whether through successful implementation initially or through the illuminating light of failure. Since the best principles will always be made apparent, submit your own ideas to the testing of those belonging to others. Being open-mindedly accepting is not accepting new or conflicting views as truth, nor is it accepting new or conflicting views as viable. Being open-mindedly accepting is to understand truth wins, and being willing, whether right or wrong, to compare your views with those of others in order to identify truth. This will improve the minds of all parties involved through meaningful interaction.

Be appreciative.

The world is not uniform. The world is not static. The world is an ever changing tapestry upon which persons hailing from all varieties of backgrounds make their marks to collectively form the priceless piece that is life. Appreciate these differences. Learning together is simply surveying this tapestry from different angles and through different lenses. Appreciate the handiwork of a Creator who did not leave the world to redundant regularity, but to exciting diversity! Embrace our differences and learn on a deeper and more genuine level.

Be adventurous.

Without hands and feet, the desire to learn in community cannot stand or work. Without vision and clarity of purpose, the principles of learning in community cannot be implemented. At some point, you have to leap. You have to put yourself in contexts where you can exercise intentionality of interaction. You have to be adventurous.

Find a place where you can get out on a limb and learn from and with new people. Have an accepting inward attitude, an approachable outward attitude, an acceptance of persons and the potential of ideas, and an appreciation for the diversity of Creation. Achieve your potential by pursuing education in community on some scale, and survey the abundant wisdom and insight which comes from learning together.

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