A major misconception often promulgated in the form of advice, particularly to young people, is that you must learn from hard experience. The famous jazz, singer, Nina Simone sang about it in her classic, You Got To Learn. In the song she sang, “you’ve got to learn through hard experience and listen to good advice.” We have had this message drummed into us for so long we believe it is the only way to learn. This advice itself, ignores the more excellent way.
I believe we are born with an innate sense about the world. It is written in our genetic code and our spirit is connected to the Spirit of God from birth if not before. Experience is not so much a teacher as it is a revealer of truth. It awakens within us that which we already know. Epistemologically, it is how we know that we know. What is more, each of us has a natural compass within. It points toward the path we should follow in life. In his famous essay, Self Reliance Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “know your genius and say what you think.” The “knowing” of your individual genius is the same as knowing what path you should follow in life.
As children, most of us knew what path we should follow. Often, others saw it in us before we saw it in ourselves. Many of you may recall a parent, relative or close friend declaring your genius: that boys gonna be a preacher or more deeply, that girl has the gift, she can see things others can’t. My father used to jokingly say of me, “boy you so smart we gonna have to send you to Washington.” As many of you know I spent much of my career in Washington. If we are fortunate and get on the right path from the beginning, the experiences that we have reinforce one another and we feel as if we are sailing through life, guided by an invisible hand; not to be confused with Adam Smith’s invisible hand.
So what about hardship, mistakes, adversity and all the ugly things that human flesh is heir to? Isn’t it true that these experiences teach us valuable lessons? The answer is yes and no. If we are on our natural path; if we know our genius and we are guided by the invisible hand of God, then our genius, our nature that has prepared us for our individual journey, also equips us with the character, the strength, the knowledge, the fortitude and most importantly the foresight to gracefully handle and overcome whatever may come our way. If we are not on the right path to begin with, or we have been led astray, we will indeed meet with severe difficulties. This is where most of us find ourselves for much of our lives. It is also why we make the mistake of believing experience is a hard teacher and that it is only through adversity that we will learn. Well what is it that we are learning? We are learning that we don’t know ourselves, that we lack faith(knowing our genius) and that fundamentally we are on the wrong path. Of course, some of us never learn and life then becomes one long, hard slog.
So experience can have a dual affect. When you are on the path God intended for you, experience reinforces and strengthens your sense of purpose. When you are on the wrong path, experience becomes a hard task master beating you up until you realize you are on the wrong path. Therefore, we should not teach our children and advise our loved ones that life is hard and that difficult experiences are necessary to teach the lessons of life. Rather we should help them discover their true genius. From a young age children should be taught to meditate and pray so that they may remain in contact with the Spirit of God and discover their true genius and purpose in life, so that the path before them will always be bright.
There is a harmony and joy to life when you are on the path that God has chosen for you and written within your heart, mind and soul. As long as you are on that path all experience rather difficult or pleasant will propel you along with a confirming sense contentment. But if you get on the wrong path, experiences will begin to be discordant. Joy and contentment will leave and that old familiar saying will enter your discourse: “things just aren’t going my way”. And here is an even more subtle deception. You can be on the right path, but with the wrong attitude. What is the wrong attitude?
Taking pride in your God given talent leads to arrogance and the frustrating of God’s purpose for your life. How many times have we seen people, blessed with immense talent and genius, out on the path God has set before them, self destruct because of pride. You may be on the right path, but if you have the wrong attitude, once again experience will become a cruel task master. Pride is a subtle and insidious thing. Often what we believe is self esteem morphs into destructive pride. Weighed down with pride, walking your path will become like trudging through heavy sand. So what must we do to avoid the perils of pride?
Acknowledge that your genius is a gift from God. Give thanks everyday, and I mean everyday(every hour would be better) for the miracle that is your life. Love your neighbor as yourself. LOVE YOUR ENEMIES! Pray without ceasing. And as always:
To God Be The Glory