1. The Best Teacher

Experience is not the best teacher. I never thought it was, but now that I’m experienced, I think I can say so, and maybe people will be more likely to listen. There isn’t a best teacher, and even if there were one, it wouldn’t necessarily be experience. Youthful energy and openness would be a contender.
Experience can teach us what can sometimes work for us. It can build up our repertoires. We try something, and if, for some reason, it does or doesn’t work, we may learn to try or not try it again. If we do try it again, we may have a better sense of how and when to try it. So I’m not saying experience isn’t a teacher at all.
But experience can be a lousy teacher. It can make it so that you’re unwilling to try something that really could work this time. You don’t try it because you “know” better. The thing you don’t want to try may closely resemble something you’ve tried. It may remind you so much of something you’ve tried before that you’re experiencing deja vu. Experience has closed your mind. If it were really the “best” teacher, it wouldn’t do that kind of thing.
Now that I’m more of an Old Fogie and less of a Young Whippersnapper, I find myself tempted to use my experience as a weapon, or at least as an unfair tool. When a person with less experience seems to be tearing apart my ideas, I’m tempted to say, “When you’re my age, you’ll feel differently.” I actually don’t have a clue how someone else will feel when that someone else is my age; lots of people are already my age, and we’re far from unanimous.
But if someone pulls rank on you by using her/his experience, there isn’t really any way to rebound. It’s a real conversation-stopper. The only way to prove that you won’t feel differently when you’re my age is to get to be my age. And that could take a long time. Besides, by then I’ll be even older, with any luck. Unless my victim has been painstakingly keeping detailed records, I won’t hear, “When you were forty-seven years and sixty-five days old, you said I’d agree with you when I was your age. Now I’m forty-seven years and sixty-five days old, and I still disagree.”
Don’t get me wrong; experience can teach. It can be a great teacher. If you use it well, it can help you and other people find answers, avoid potholes, and evaluate strategies. A person who has been working and thinking for a long time has probably accomplished a lot more than the proverbial monkey fooling around with the typewriter (you remember – the one who was supposed to reproduce the works of Shakespeare).
But a friend (an experienced friend) once told me that someone who has been doing the same kind of work for forty years may not have forty years of experience; he/she may have one year of experience, experienced forty times. Experience, like any other teacher, needs to stay current and keep growing if it wants to be a good teacher. And really, I think it’s a waste of time to argue about who’s the “best” teacher.

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