Monday, January 12, 2015

Listening as the Key to Lifelong Learning

I just posted on an essay on how to develop your wisdom. The article was prompted by an interesting research article posted on medline, as published by the Journal of Personality.

The authors of the research into wisdom found that wisdom was associated with:
  • personal growth
  • life satisfaction with self and others
  • a concern for the welfare of others
But after reading this article, I had a nagging question: are these associations side-effects from the development of wisdom, or factors that help develop wisdom? What came first? Wisdom, or the above factors? My own view is that we start with a strong curiosity and desire to learn. Then we ponder and meditate on our learning. Finally, we must take action and gauge the results.

One of the big lessons I've learned over the years is that humility is a fundamental feature of personal growth. There is so much to learn from others, and this learning can come at the most unexpected times, from the most unexpected people.

I had a friend on the Wardner City Council that would constantly refer to "educated idiots." What he was referring to were people from other communities who would come to our town and think they knew it all. They had a good education, but they didn't understand the local environment. They were educated, but when it came to understanding Wardner, they were idiots. Thus the term, educated idiots. The lesson? Be humble with others.

Applied to my medical practice, this means that when I evaluate a new patient, I always do my best to understand their point of view. What do they think is happening? What are they afraid of? What would they like done? What does the family think is going on?

I also try my best to keep an open dialogue with my co-workers, including nurses, physical therapists, and pharmacists to name a few. What do they think is going on with the patient?

This listening to others doesn't mean I disregard my own thoughts or my own education. Listening simply indicates an openness to learning more and the possibility that my own initial impression may be wrong. By really listening to others, and most especially to our patients, we are lifelong learners.