Nature or Nurture

Mar 09, 2011

There must be some reason we spend a large part of our childhood and youth in learning institutions trying to get "educated".




I hardly thought about this while I was being educated. But having grown out of such institutions only recently, I now realize how many things we are taught fall out of line with what life experiences teach us.

These days, with a sudden abundance of free time that I've gained from not having to attend classes, I've had the time to lunch in my vegetable garden, watching garlic and carrot and spinach and lettuce sprout and grow as I feed myself. While lunching last week, I ended up gazing at one of the three Chinese rose trees that decorate our garden. I've never understood why they were planted there in the first place. The Chinese version obviously does not match up to the original one. And the 'roses' themselves – a pity to look at! Before they'd bloomed into their full splendour, they'd already begun to wither and brown. While my nose was still crinkled in distaste, I saw a bee come close to this rose tree.

First, the bee went into the shabbiest little rose, between the folds of petals and disappeared for a while. Then it came out, buzzing about noisily around the miniature tree. It kept coming close then going away, as if reluctant to make a decision about what to do with this distressful looking flower. Not your taste, eh? The flower waited patiently and attentively, until the bee made a final journey into its centre to drink up some nectar. Really? How did you manage to get wooed by that awful looking thing? Having nuzzled against its pistils, the bee had inadvertently invited a full pack of pollens for a ride by the time it was done. Darn, you naive bee! You fell for it, didn't you?

I don't know what went on between the flower and the bee, but by the end, it seemed like both were on the same page. It was intriguing to see that what was plain ugly for me was beautiful for the bee. Or perhaps beauty is a prejudice bees don't adhere to. Whatever made the bee's eyes twinkle for the flower left a twinkle in my eyes too.

You know, the only way I've learned to see a bee and a flower together has been under the context taught to us in science class in school. Was it during the 5th grade? I remember learning about stamens and pollen, anthers and stigmas. In class, they teach you the technical aspects of floral sexuality. What they miss out on is the charisma and the romance. No one taught me that pollination could be absurd, and sexy, even.

In fact, our initiation into learning about pollination happens within the confines of concrete classrooms, amidst two dimensional, black and white diagrams that look nothing like flowers and bees in real life. Apart from having no colour, these textbook creatures have little charm, personality, or life in them. It struck me that day, seated between rows of garlic and spinach, that whatever transpires around us is not a mere scientific fact, but an encounter that occurs even in the absence of textbooks, classrooms, facts or knowledge. To make our claim of knowledge on this encounter is to limit what it can offer us, to label us the "knowers" and nature the "known", to distance ourselves from it so that we dare not think of being a part of it.

What we seem to do through education is segregate, then prioritise knowledge. Some things are deemed more important in the scheme of learning than others.

It stung me that each person has their own bit to learn from any encounter, their own pot of gold to unearth. What we seem to do through education is segregate, then prioritise knowledge. Some things are deemed more important in the scheme of learning than others. Eventually, these non-practical, non-useful bits of knowledge begin to atrophy. Am I being outrageous in thinking that we're letting go of something immensely valuable in letting that happen?

Are shifts in perspective necessary? From time to time, we need a metaphysical toothbrush to put into our being and brush our insides with so that we're left sparkly and tingly with the mint of life. I let the saga of the flower and bee do it for me. Too often, packaged in impressive looking labels of practical, future-oriented education, what we're being fed is a daily dose of the pills of boredom. And while we struggle with curriculums throughout our lives, it is boredom we graduate into without even realizing it.

The best thing about letting nature be your teacher is that it does not wish to teach you anything, and in turn, lets you learn whatever you wish from it; the scope of learning in, around, along with nature is infinite. Spending time with nature is perhaps the most effortless way of stepping out of those uncomfortable shoes of boredom.

Maybe life isn't about settling into others' definitions of what happiness is but creating your own. Every day, I let life teach me something new. Sometimes I wonder why adults don't remind us while we're still kids that there is so much joy in life to get out of learning without having to conquer it. Is it because they have forgotten this through a lifetime of neglect?

I sure hope not.


This post was originally published on V.E.N.T! in February 2011.

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