experience v. discipline

“The Boy” by Amedeo Modigliani

Experience is the Angled Road
Preferred against the Mind
By — Paradox — the Mind itself —
Presuming to it lead

Quite Opposite — How complicate
The Discipline of Man —
Compelling Him to choose Himself
His Preappointed Pain —

~ Emily Dickinson
(The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #899)

I’m not quite sure what Emily is getting at with this poem but it did get me thinking. Many folks say that experience is the best teacher, but personally experiencing all that life has to offer would take forever and, in my mind, often amounts to wasting time and learning things the hard way. But is it any better to submit to the discipline given by other people, obeying potentially immoral rules from authorities that might oppress or harm ourselves or others? Perhaps experience and discipline are opposite sides of the same coin. Perhaps we are as likely as our teachers to make painful mistakes in judgment as we learn ways to make sense of the world.

15 thoughts on “experience v. discipline”

  1. I believe that a post like this is so very helpful to make us ponder – and not leap to conclusions. I believe that I am here to love. Myself and others – and the more judgments I let go of, the easier it gets.
    What you do so well with us, is share beauty and oh-s – and help us be more present with ourself and nature.Great service it is ♥

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Leelah. ♡ I am very grateful for your loving presence in my life. It’s so true, the less we judge and the more we try to understand each other the better things will be for everyone.

    1. Yeah, I’d like to think she’s saying that some methods work better than others for each individual. I learned that teaching three kids: incentives for “good” behavior and consequences for “bad” conduct affected all of them differently.

  2. This is exactly the sort of poem English teachers love to have students dissect … and complain loudly when the kids “don’t get it”! You know, I still don’t have any idea what Emily had in mind here. However, I do agree with you that we can’t experience everything ourselves — some things we’ll have to go on in faith, that the source is reliable and reasonable.

    1. Yes, although for me it took me forever to figure out which sources were reliable and reasonable! I’m one of those who tend to learn things the hard way, as my parents correctly observed. 😉 Tim was always one of those students who never got poetry. But that’s okay because I never got the hang of math and logic!

  3. Well personally I am too old and tired to wonder what Emily was trying to accomplish with this poem. I prefer to remain in my own mind-set and just enjou life – with its ups and downs. I definitely do not wish to sprain my brain.

    1. Your comment made me start thinking about something else, Peggy! Emily was only 55 years old when she died. Had she lived longer I wonder what kind of poetry that penetrating mind of hers would be writing at your age and mine?

  4. It’s interesting to think how we learned and acted based on how we grew up and what influenced us. There was no “cookie cutter” management style when I was growing up … for me – as an only child, no one to forge paths ahead of me unfortunately, but I cannot imagine saying or doing anything other than was expected of me. Not like I see today. Learning was fun back then – not sure now though.

    1. For the most part I did what was expected of me, too, until I got to my teens when I started rebelling big time. I do regret so many of the things I wound up doing and wish I had listened to more of the discipline (teachings) of my parents. Interesting what you say about not having an older sibling to forge paths for you. My oldest was the most stubborn and my youngest told me she did observe that and learned from his mistakes and was the most cooperative. Yet, Tim & I are both firstborns so we deeply understood what our firstborn was feeling!

      1. Back then, when I was growing up, I was expected to be obedient – always. There was no one who got away with things before me – I thought that was tough. You and Tim had forge paths. Sometimes with lots of kids, by the time they got to the last one, anything would go! I’ve heard that from people who were the youngest … they got away with murder so to speak!

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