Esquire magazine has a well-known column “What I’ve Learned.” 

Over the years they’ve asked celebrities, sports figures, artists and countless others to share some of their thoughts and personal views on things they have learned over the course of the lifetime. 

All of us have thoughts about what we’ve learned. If we’re young, we think we have it figured out. I, and all my friends, went through that phase. I’m sure a teen or 20-something today thinks the same. 

Human behavior isn’t all that different. When Burt Reynolds was interviewed for the Esquire piece, one of his comments was “I can tell a young person where the mines are, but he’s probably going to have to step on them anyway.” 

That sums up learning pretty well. Even middle-aged and the senior class still have mines to step on.

Looking around at the world today, it seems we haven’t learned much. We still have people who want to hone in on fear, hate or grievance and play it for all it’s worth for some perceived personal benefit. That benefit can be money, power and privilege or just to whine and blame others for their own misfortune. 

Humans have always been really good at this. We’re temporarily better at it when we get permission to whine and moan from those who should be extolling our better angels rather than fanning the flame of our inner devils. History is replete with examples of the few who had the stage, pulpit or leadership mantle and used those who needed their shortcomings validated.  

It’s harder to think positive, turn the other cheek, lift up others when our own load seems too heavy. But if we’re forced to think about what we’ve learned, we might find some surprising and inspiring things tucked in amongst the detritus that is part of all of our lives.

Some take advantage of people’s fear, and some are comfortable passing fears on to others to solve – which they never can. It’s when we value people, ideas, morals and the better side of our nature that others who want to use our fear find it harder to get a toehold.  

Julius Erving, or Dr. J, recognized that his signature “dunk” was both a game changer and an accident waiting to happen. Yogi Berra said that you don’t have to swing hard to hit a home run; if you have the timing, it’ll go. 

Helen Mirren thinks it would be wrong to think that you’re always right, correct, perfect, and brilliant; self-doubt is the thing that drives you to try and improve yourself.

We don’t have to be famous to know what we’ve learned, and how that will shape how we act and think, if we actually think about what we know and apply it daily. 

Learning isn’t always an epiphany. Sometimes it’s the small things that have the largest impact. Waving at a stranger; combing a child’s hair; sending or receiving a handwritten note – just because; touching someone’s hand or giving/receiving a hug; the power of silence; admitting we don’t know everything are examples of things learned.

Stop and think about what you’ve learned. It may be a pleasant surprise.

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