The 3 Most Important Things I Learned in 27 Years

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Here I am, 27 years and three days old and I am taking a moment to reflect. What the hell am I doing with my life? This year was the first time that I celebrated my birthday in the winter, and in the month of the crazy dog. A couple of interesting novelties that I didn’t see coming if you would have asked me one year ago.

So what did I learn in 27 years roaming around on this planet? I experienced a variety of cultures, people, and situations that shaped me into who I am today. In the meantime I think I have come to know a wide ranging amount of perspectives. Underneath I sum up three things I learned from those.

1. I laugh when I don’t understand

I remember when I was 12 years old, standing in the center of our village next to a green telephone booth with a glass door. Already out of function, partially due to me and my teammates’ efforts. The brick stone streets deserted and the cobblestones on the side quite slippery. A slight mist and temperatures far below zero. Me and my 3 teammates were waiting for another to come with a family member to drive us to a nearby village. We would play an indoor soccer tournament there, if our legs would still be functioning when we would get there anyway.

When our blood pressure was so low we could barely move our legs, a dark colored sedan came creeping up the street. Slowly because there could be a thin layer of ice on that is usually hard to see. When it freezes, it melts and then it freezes again over a short period of time, black ice might occur. Or ijzel as we call that in the Netherlands. Every bike, truck and car drivers’ nightmare. Government officials work all night to throw salt on the streets to make the ice melt. Not in our village though.

When the last of my teammates threw the door shut, off we went. More or less motivated for what was coming because I wasn’t really sure we would win any game. We creeped down another brick street, passing the protestant church up the hill on the right, the butcher on the left with it’s curtains down behind the windows, and later the bungalow village house on the right. Nobody in the streets. Leaving the village we changed from brick to asphalt, still driving like a snail. The sister of one of my teammates who was driving seemed quite tense. Past the soccer field on the left, and around the corner. Swoosh no ice. Softly braking we came to a crossing surrounded by trees. Right turn, accelerating slowly, big oak trees on both

beukenlaan
Space for one and half car (photo taken in Autumn)

sides of the road, and space for one and half car. Always nice when you encounter a car driving the other direction here. Between the trees we could see frozen grass fields and an occasional house in the distance. One more turn, and over the white wooden bridge we would come to the next crossing to turn on to the big road that was the main entry to our village.

Were it not that the turn before the bridge, our driver turned the steering wheel to the right. Without success. Straight we went. BOOM! Lucky there was a wooden fence or we would have ended up in the canal. We opened the doors, stepped on to the street. Our driver started crying, my teammates looked shocked out of there eyes, and I, I couldn’t stop laughing for 20 minutes.

Now before you think I am some sadistic freak, a shock response can come in many forms. After this event I ended up in another car accident not that long ago. I totally saw this one coming, but again, I was quite lyrical after the accident. I couldn’t believe what had happened.

Now this not only applies to accidents like this. I am bound to laugh when I feel uncomfortable, or when something is out of my field of comprehension (for that moment). These defense mechanisms are normal because the body and mind love structure, routine and preferably not too much novelty.  Now when I laugh, somebody else might get quiet, frustrated, bossy, feel insulted, or be judgmental. The clue here is that your defense mechanism might kick in without conscious attention, just like mine, that of a strangers, or that of your friends’. When you understand this, you can be both more accepting towards your own behavior as well as others’.

2. I learn easily, but only under the right conditions

A couple of years later, I was addicted to computer games and I tried to shoot people in the head all day. In between I indulged on grilled ham and cheese sandwiches and I gained quite a bit of weight as a consequence. Also, I rather didn’t go to school. My parents were figuring out how to motivate me. They would pull of my blanket when I was trying to sleep in on school days. It didn’t work I’m telling you, I just went downstairs to get my blanket and slept some more. When I finally got up, I didn’t waste time to hop in front of my computer screen and start shooting heady’s again.

I did hate school then, unbelievable, and my German teacher I hated the most. I tried to provoke her every class, trying to put as much of my frustration as possible on to her. All that time, she was just trying her best with a class full of very hard-to-please teenagers. Anyway, when I was at school at least. I remember one time my team-leader scheduled a meeting with me and my mother. He showed a statistic of my absence. May, 30 days absent. I didn’t go to school for a month. I was surprised because from my perspective I hadn’t been absent for that long.

May, 30 days absent. I didn’t go to school for a month. I was surprised because from my perspective I hadn’t been absent for that long.

He and many others would often say, you just have to try a little harder, we know you have the qualities to get your grades. I couldn’t care less.

Flash forward to Physical Therapy school. I am that guy sitting in the front, raising his hand all the time trying to give the right answer. One time I got a 7 (out of 10). Jesus, was I disappointed, I should have had a 9!

Over time I have come to understand that I am an easy learner, but only under the right conditions. When I am motivated I am a sponge and suck up every piece of  information. I was lucky to choose the right bachelor program, after choosing the wrong one the year before. I had quit that one after 6 weeks.

Our school system is very limited, when it comes to providing the individual with what they need to know. Both in the subjects that are taught and the way it is done. Definitely when it comes to traditional high school education in the Netherlands. It’s a disaster, you only learn how to function within a materialistic society even though most of our experience is determined by the metaphysical. The system only works for the person that can bring up empathy for his teachers, is disciplined, and has himself figured out. However, which boy has all these things by the age of 15?

Now if something like that is your last memory of school and has left you with the idea you can’t learn, or schoolbooks are not for you, stop and think again. The latter might be true, but everybody can learn. The divisions made in schools do not resemble natural division, and only more or less, work within the society that was created by our forefathers. This does not mean however, that when you cannot read a book you do not understand what is written in there.

This does not mean however, that when you cannot read a book you do not understand what is written in there

There are a million ways to learn, but only one is being propagated during traditional education. Luckily nowadays, more and more people are becoming aware of this, plus all the information in the world is available online. The only thing for you to do, is to figure out what the right learning conditions are for you.

3. Bad people don’t exist

In the aforementioned chaos of my teenage years somewhere along the line an interest for the Middle-East was born. At the time wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were taking place and Israel and Palestine remained a reoccurring theme on the news as well.

A natural indignation to not believing what I was being told by mediums like the 8 o’clock news, partially ingrained by my parents, I was doubting the validity of what was being shown. The Middle-East; a breeding-ground for terrorists where nobody could be trusted.

This image was spread with such force it basically dehumanized the entire region and allowed for nonhuman interventions.

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The wall between Israel and Palestine, this photo was taken from the Palestinian side. Are the people within this wall bad? And are the people that put up this wall bad?

At that time I read a couple of interesting books by former Dutch news reporter Joris Luyendijk. In A Good Man Sometimes Beats His Wife he wrote about the western perspective on Egyptian culture, and in They’re Just Like People (People Like Us in the US) he wrote about his experiences as a news reporter in the Middle East.

The thing I remember most profoundly about the second book is how he as a reporter barely ever saw the site of what he was reporting about. He always had to call to press agencies like Reuters and then create a story based on all the information he could gather from other people. In the end he would have 2 minutes to talk on the 8 o’clock news. So I was wondering, how well does that piece of information represent what really happened?

As the universe would have it I had the opportunity together with a friend to do an internship in Palestine a couple of years later. I couldn’t have been more excited to finally get to see things with my own eyes.

And what do you think happened? Nothing! People kind and forthcoming beyond believe and I never felt unsafe in all of the 11 weeks that I lived and worked there.

And what do you think happened? Nothing! People kind and forthcoming beyond believe

kindtaxidriver
This “supposed” bad person, who was also a taxi driver, went out of his way to give us a 2 hour tour of Bethlehem’s’ surrounding areas.

and I never felt unsafe in all of the 11 weeks that I lived and worked there. The scariest thing I experienced was the interim supervisor of the physical therapy department having an occasional anger attack. For reasons I did not understand, he would make a lot of arm movements, walk really quick, all the while shouting in Arabic to everybody he passed by.

Over the course of my life I have hung out with labeled terrorists, drug addicts, rich kids, poor people, well educated people, and people shaped by life. Not one of them I considered as a bad person, even when that person would (have) engaged in stealing, vandalism or dealing drugs.

As things go every single one of us is shaped by the accumulation of our life experiences. There are always moments where we can influence our decisions, but not everybody was dealt the same cards. Politicians, the traditional media, and corporations do their best to divide the world in to good and bad, smart and dumb, and quick and slow, only to capitalize on this division after.

The truth is though, that when you hit your child, when you bully other people, when you steal, when others call you a terrorist, or when you are addicted to drugs, you are not a bad person. Life is too complicated to divide into two sides.

Even though we are the accumulation of our experiences, we are not the experiences themselves.

Even though we are the accumulation of our experiences, we are not the experiences themselves. You define who you are, and how you manifest yourself in the world, good and bad is not part of that equation.

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