on being taught and teaching

Mentoring the Apprentices at Embercombe got me thinking about learning. Of course we never stop. As hunter-gatherers we would have used a strong and long tradition of passing on knowledge down through the ages. Evolution: essential lessons (like what is edible or deadible) that have been learned, first-hand, by previous generations – pioneers of a new piece of knowledge.In one sense being taught on courses, from books or from our elders and mentors is part of this tradition of inheriting wisdom from previous hunter-gatherers, country folk and nomads. By me passing this on to the next generation I have decided to not be an end-point where it becomes extinct but a continuation of this lineage, passing it on through sharing and teaching. I hope that one day these people I entrust with this learning cherish it and pass it on too.

But what lies beyond this rather narrow definition of learning from teachers, books and others? We all encourage people to get out and practice, experiment and discover. Hunter-gatherers would have had an excellent knowledge of their local resources – they would have been experts in knowing what was growing where or feeding when. Their range would have been substantial but sharply defined  – building up an intimate knowledge of their ‘patch’ was a key to survival of their people.

We cannot just learn this from books or even from just others – you have to go out and acquire knowledge and its daughter, skill, through trial and error – inventing your own variations on the rules passed down to you: a method suited for the place you find yourself in and the time you inhabit. After a while you will try to become the master and you will co-create your knowledge in partnership with nature around you. Can you see what I mean? Acquiring knowledge is not just done from others but from learning directly from your intimate interaction with the resources around you. So, please go ahead read, listen and mimic. But heed this: when you have done then go out, try, fail, adapt, try again, discover, improve and only then realise that mastery has no master at all.


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