Creative Thinking: Finding answers isn’t always easy

June 29, 2014 

The other day someone used a word I’d never heard. I certainly didn’t know its meaning, but bluffed my way through the rest of the conversation as if I did. As soon as I had a chance, I went to my iPad and carefully typed in the way I thought the word would be spelled.

I watched the computer as it immediately corrected the letters I’d typed to the way the word was actually spelled.

After taking a second to attempt to absorb the correct spelling for future reference, I clicked on it to find its meaning.

Ever since I was a young boy, I’ve been familiar with this way of learning, although back then it didn’t involve a computer. Any time you needed to check a fact, definition or spelling, instead of typing the information into a computer, you had to enlist the help of either a dictionary or an encyclopedia.

I usually went straight to the set of leather bound encyclopedias we had safely tucked away in a cabinet in our living room. I won them when I was 10 years old in an art competition conducted by this very newspaper.

Although I seldom use them anymore, I still keep them stored in my studio. From within those pages, I’ve learned a wealth of knowledge over the years.

My mother adamantly felt that if we were made to take the time to get one of the books and look something up, by seeing the word and reading its meaning, we’d be more apt to remember it. In fact, she insisted on this method instead of just automatically giving me the meaning.

Sometimes, when none of my family members knew the meaning, we all learned together after a search revealed the correct answer.

The other day when I learned the meaning of the word I had heard, I realized it wasn’t said to me in a positive way. I had gathered that by the patronizing tone in which it was delivered but, until fully understanding its meaning, I didn’t totally put together what the person meant.

My first reaction was to become upset, hurt or even mad, but I considered the source and reluctantly tried to make it flee from my thoughts -- another process Mother tried so hard to instill in me. And one that I’ll definitely have to keep working on until I take my last breath.

As I was putting away my iPad, I found myself pondering how wonderful it would be if we could solve all of the things in life we didn’t understand by simply typing in a few words and waiting for an instant reply.

I wanted to go back and ask the computer why that person had been so insensitive with her remarks to me. But I knew the answer didn’t lie in the vast knowledge embedded in a computer. Instead, I would have to chalk it up to being a part of life.

With each experience, we have the potential to learn.

Recently, I certainly could have used this search method to solve life’s problems with some of the many issues swirling around in my head.

“What should I do about this situation?” I could ask the computer. “What kind of advice should I offer for this problem?”

But I knew the answers were not necessarily stored on the World Wide Web, but instead only in the depths of the “computer” that resides within me.

The problem is my inner computer doesn’t always have an exact answer, and it certainly doesn’t offer answers instantly.

I try to look at living my life as if I’m constantly in school. It’s not just for a certain amount of years before it’s over -- like in high school. Each day I have to be present in class to be prepared to learn the life lesson placed in front of me at that particular time. Some days the class can be overwhelming with extremely complicated tests coming from every direction and around every corner.

I definitely don’t know all the answers or which issues to tackle first. That’s when frustration sets in, clouding my ability to see things clearly. Without a clear mind, judgment can be compromised. Without being prepared, lessons can be lost.

Sometimes we’ll never understand the reasons why life proceeds the way it does. It is at these times we have to be willing to accept what has happened and move on to the next issue on our list.

Just like taking a real test, if we get stuck on one question and don’t move forward, we’ll most assuredly miss the rest of the questions and answers.

So maybe the reason that person said what she did to me the other day, using a word I didn’t know, is so I’d learn from it and then share my thoughts with you in this column. As with each of my columns, it is my goal to share stories from my personal journey with hopes that they will help someone else.

That’s the beauty of life’s great big classroom. It allows all of us to share the knowledge we’ve learned with those around us and, by doing so, helps bring clarity to one of their lessons. Let’s face it. We all need some Cliffs Notes every now and then!

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