Purpose: (noun) “the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists”
Method: (noun) “orderliness of thought or behavior; systematic planning or action”
Purpose and Method. Reason and Action. Motivation and System. I am a firm believer in the profound power of Experiential Learning Theory — a theory of learning that focuses on learning through reflection on doing while incorporating previous experiences as guide, teacher, and mentor. It involves being creative in the learning process and constructing meaning from the experience. It isn’t that this theory is kind of fuzzy or that it needs to be proven. Good common sense and recalling one’s own previous learning experiences will support that Theory has morphed into Factual Reality when it comes to Experiential Learning. And I think we can all agree that experience is a powerful teacher.
The only purpose of education is freedom; the only method is experience. – Leo Tolstoy
This quote by Tolstoy inspires a moment to take a pause with a cause. Learning. Anyone who has trained themselves to write in cursive or who has memorized the multiplication table or has learned the phonology of vowels and consonants in order to decipher meaning from squiggly symbols (the alphabet) that have been written on a page of paper (reading) knows that a certain amount of systematic application is required in mastering this type of learning. If you have ever learned how to solve quadratic equations or how to diagram a sentence into its grammatical parts, you also know that there is a specific orderliness of thought that occurs. Method is involved in so much of what we learn and in so much of the experimenting; Method is required in order to engage in critical thinking. In short, Method is King when it comes to learning.
And then there is Purpose. Method’s mighty Queen. I am thinking about this . . . and I can’t really say that I consistently and consciously attach the notion of active Purpose to all of the learning that I engage in. Even while earning various degrees, I am trying to recall if I attached more Purpose to the Method that goes beyond the usual: advancing my career, helping others to learn and grow, making a difference in the community, and maybe even upping my salary a bit.
Now? I am wondering if I put my own True Self into the Equation of Education. If I re-wrote Tolstoy’s quote into a parallel mathematical equation, this is how it would look:
Purpose + Method ∑ Education.
And in the methodical world of mathematics, you could re-write this equation as follows:
Purpose = Education – Method
Method = Education – Purpose
Are you still with me? Now, in that Purpose and Method are individual aspects of being human, let’s call Purpose and Method variables and do a little substitution using Tolstoy’s quote while we’re at it:
Purpose = Freedom
Method = Experience
and apply the substitutions accordingly:
Freedom + Experience ∑ Education
and re-write the equation once again:
Freedom = Education – Experience
Experience = Education – Freedom
I don’t know about you, but I am a whole lot lost. Or maybe I’m not.
If you think of Freedom as being free to do something entirely brand new — something you have never tried before . . . well, that sort of does break the rules of applying any previous experience. For example, I have never jumped out of a plane with a parachute on my back. I have no experience in my past that I can compare this new experience to. Driving a car. A first kiss. Learning how to ride a bike. Balancing on a pair of ice skates. It is all so brand new. And very expressive of my freedom to choose something totally apart from what I have done in the past.
If you think of Experience, you can think of it as moments from the past that you have lived. There are no more opportunities to change what was. Your “what was” has created your “what is.” In the past, you have created brand new experiences and you have also repeated experiences from the past, be they excellent decisions or insanely-repetitive mistakes. Still, they are experiences that are no longer in the “I am free to do anything I want in this moment.” They are done and they are no longer free.
But still. They do not define who you are today . . . well, actually they kind of do if you believe that you can learn from previous experience. But. There is nothing stopping you from exercising your freedom to do something new. Be someone new. Learn something new. I’m spinning myself into a whole new world of thinking that makes sense internally but not so much when I put it all into words.
Learning. Education. It’s all a mash-up of what we have done and who we want to become. Life is one big Educational Experience to which we allow Purpose to drive us and allow Method to be the vehicle that is going to get us to where we think we are going. It’s all one big moment of Now that is an educational opportunity to do something that will make a difference.
Now. It’s all we have. What’s stopping us from being brave and relying on previous successes and learning something completely new today? The clock, our choices, and our willingness to keep trying, doing, and learning is what will keep us exercising our rights of Purpose and Method, Freedom and Experience.