Dear Fiona: Love Learning

Dear Fiona,

There is almost nothing you can do to melt my heart more quickly than when you toddle over to your shelf, grab one of your books, bring it over and hand it to me, and then reach out for me to hoist you up into my lap.

I love it. And I love how much you love it. And I hope you never stop.

On the heels of my last letter about the importance of communication, I want to talk to you today about your already-manifest love of learning . . . because the two go hand-in-hand.

You don’t talk a lot yet, but much of what you do say is rooted in discovering and exploring the world around you. Your favorite word, at the moment, is “Dat!” . . . by which you typically mean, “What’s that?”

It’s a question you love to ask, and one I love to answer.

I will do everything in my power to nurture your love of learning for as long as I’m alive, but I also want to share with you some ways in which you can feed it for yourself.

Some of them, we’ve already talked about thus far in this series of letters.

Communication, as you might imagine, is key to learning. You can discover things for yourself, on your own . . . and God knows I prefer to do that. I have a powerful aversion to asking for help under almost any circumstances. But this gets back to what we discussed earlier about the difference between knowing about someone, and knowing someone. What I wrote there is as true when learning about things as it is in learning about people. There are times when you yourself can only get to the former, and you need someone else to get you all the way to the latter.

Sometimes you reach the limits of what you can find on your own, and you need someone to help you. For you, right now, the solution is asking, “Dat?” I want to encourage you to always seek help where it’s available . . . and to always know that it will be available right here.

And then there’s empathy . . . another key to learning.

How does that work, exactly? It works because empathy is the only way of expanding on what you know to be true. You can learn things by observation, but there’s only so much you can observe with your own five senses. To expand on that, you have to experience through another person’s eyes and ears.

“But,” you may ask, “can’t I just read a book?”

Well sure, of course you can . . . and I hope you read many, many books in your life. But without empathy, the only way to absorb what you read is by running it through your own filters.

You can read Oliver Twist without having ever seen a Victorian workhouse, or Les Misérables without having ever experienced a French dungeon. But without empathy you will be unable to truly grasp the message of what you are reading. You may learn something from it, but you could learn so much more.

So if you truly love learning, then as I said in my previous letter, cultivate empathy.

Empathy, too, will help you discover one of the greatest and most powerful lessons I have ever come to know in my quest for learning.

It is this:

Everybody has something to teach you.

You may bitterly disagree with someone, or despise them, or think them a fool. But if you can take on their perspective, even for a moment, you can learn from them.

I have yet to find an exception to this rule.

And that, my dear daughter, is in truth the heart of this letter, because it is already a piece of my relationship with you. In your 14 months of life, I have already learned more from you than I ever thought possible. And I hope I never stop.

I love you.


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