On Experience

"A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way."
-Mark Twain
I'd originally planned for today's post to be about good intentions. Then I remembered my birthday. That thing always seems to sneak up on me. So of course, I couldn't just do a normal post. People will want me to say something about age, or the human lifespan, or something like that. I mean, writers are practically required to write about some huge new revelation after their birthdays, and all that they've learned over the past year, and how far they've come. So, somewhat begrudgingly, I have put my good intentions post on hold. I did have a post on experience that I wanted to get to at some point, anyway.

Today's post will consist of two sections, though they may more or less blend together. You see, I had my original idea for a post, but after talking to my dad the other day, I realized there was more to it than my original theory. (We weren't talking about experience, we were talking about time travel; the topic of experience just happened to come up.) However, I still think that an aspect of my original thoughts on the matter are accurate. So they'll be included.

The original concept compares logic to a gun, experience to ammunition, and the debate to a war. No matter how many bullets you have, they're next to worthless if you don't have a gun. But if you do have a gun, they can be your greatest tool. The issue with this is that it only refers to experiences, not to experience. It assumes that you will be using that experience as a point in a debate. However, few people say that they are correct because they have more experiences. They say they are correct because they have more experience. Which brings us to another aspect of experience.

Experience can show you where the focus needs to be, and what direction to take. Look at a math problem, for example. Two people can solve the same problem. But it's much easier to solve the problem if you know where to start, or if you know what direction the problem is heading in. It doesn't mean that one person can just claim to know the answer because they've encountered problems like this before, but it does give them a head start, and a push in the right direction.

I believe that ofttimes, people think incorrectly of experience, and thus, fail to use it effectively. People know that experience is important, and so will many times rely on experience. I couldn't count the number of times I've been told, "you'll understand when you're older." This has always been one of the most frustrating phrases for me to hear. It tells me that either they don't know how to explain it, and are relying on how they feel about the subject, or they don't think that I'm smart enough to understand it if they did explain it. Many times, I have gotten older, and I have understood why I was previously told whatever it was that I had been told. I have also realized that if they had just explained it, I would have understood it (though I wouldn't have experienced it). I have also understood that their reasoning was still just as stupid as before. The difference is that now that I understand what their reasoning was, I can understand why it was stupid in greater detail.
The reason experience is valuable is not so that someone can say, "I have experience, so I'm right." Experience is valuable because you can use it as a tool. It means that you know where the issues are, where you should be focusing, etc. But if all you can say is "I know better than you because I have experience," then your experience is worthless, because it's indistinguishable from emotions. If you really have the experience, you should be able to explain it.

Keep in mind, an explanation of experience is not a substitute for experience. Explaining to someone why they shouldn't carry a cat by its tail is not the same as experiencing it yourself. However, you can still explain why you shouldn't carry a cat by its tail. Explaining experience is not the same as experience, but it uses experience accurately. If Albert is 20 and has opinion A, and Bob is 50 and has opinion B, Bob cannot claim to be right on the grounds of experience. After all, Candace is 20 and has opinion B, and Daryl is 50 and has opinion A.

Experience is a very valuable tool. But when used incorrectly, it works against you instead. Experience isn't everything. You don't win a war by having more ammunition than your opponent if you don't have a gun. And you don't win a debate by having more experience if you don't know how to use it.
"Nothing ever becomes real 'til it is experienced."
-John Keats

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