Earlier this week I had a rather interesting conversation with someone. One of the topics was how the other person switched between their day job and the reason for us sharing airspace at that moment. The fact that the two things - as far as I could see - were not all that different was apparently beside the point.
You see - they both involved a mix of theoretical knowledge and two kinds of practical experience.
Allow me to attempt to explain what I mean by that.
The theoretical knowledge part is easy to explain. It is what we learn every time we attempt to do something new. This can either be the stuff you learned in an official "Educational Establishment" or from reading the manual on your latest and newest gadget.
The two different sorts of Practical Experience are a bit more complicated.
The first sort is where you begin to put into practice what you have learned in your "theoretical knowledge" sessions. It could be a case of finding a native speaker of Chinese and attempting to speak to them in their own language when you have just done a GCSE course in it). Or driving on a motorway. Or using your new gadget for the first time.
The other sort of Practical Experience is the one I am most interested in.
This is the one where you either don't have the theoretical knowledge to start with - or you find yourself having to bend the theory to the conditions and circumstances you currently find yourself in. Then finding out that the theory and your current circumstances do not match - and probably never will.
A good example of this would be when my Dad drives in The Netherlands. He passed his driving test in England - his automatic reactions tell him to drive on the left, oh and his brain is hardwired for English road rules.
My Dad has considerable experience of driving in The Netherlands. However, it still takes him some time to adjust and "flick the switch" as it were when he puts his front wheels on Dutch tarmac. Let's just say that driving on the left in The Netherlands is not exactly the smartest idea in the world. Although - one of my favourite memories of him driving in The Netherlands was when one Dutch driver had taken one look at the English numberplate of our car at one point and decided that Dad would be the typical English courteous driver (and let the Dutch car off the small ferry we were on first). I can still picture the look on the Dutch driver's face as we zoomed past them.
What happens when you find yourself in a situation where you do not have the benefit of theoretical knowledge before you gain practical experience???
This can be the most dangerous situation of all. The gap where the theory should be is either a total vacuum waiting to be filled with inaccurate "knowledge" or it becomes filled with what you find yourself having to learn through practical experience alone. This means that the "recieved wisdom" theory doesn't get any room.
This also means that it can become extremely difficult to translate your practical experience into theoretical knowledge that other people would be able to understand.
For example - hand me a camera, hand an amateur photographer a camera, and hand a qualified professional photographer a camera. Then stand all three of us in the same place at the same time and tell us to photograph the same view. The chances are you will not only get three different photographs but you will also get three different explanations of how and why we took them.
The two photographers who have some theoretical knowledge will probably be able to bore you about the composition they used, the lighting, the choice of film or digital, the shutter speed they used, etc.
Me??? Well - my monologue on the photograph I took will not include any of the above. My monologue will probably include why I took it in the first place. I have three main reasons - I liked the view I saw with my own eyes and I wanted to capture it and show other humans, I had a problem with seeing the view with my own eyes and I wished to make it easier to see, or I saw something the other two wouldn't understand and I wished to show them.
In plain English - I sometimes use my camera as an extention of my eyeballs. If I have difficulty reading things (and I am in a place where I am allowed to operate a camera) the zoom function suddenly has a very practical function indeed. (The other two photographers would probably tell you that the zoom function on a camera is the spawn of Satan.)
There is also another danger concerning the battle between practical and theoretical. It is called the Mainstream Media.
These beings all have some kind of agenda to push regarding life and how we should all live it.
We have all read and seen reports about such things as Disability equalling "Benefit Scrounging", Immigration equalling "stealing jobs from the native unemployed" (or even Immigration equalling "Everybody who comes into our country is a Terrorist", or worse "Everybody who comes into our country wants to live by their own rules and not mix"), and an Armed Police Officer going into a supermarket to buy their lunch equalling "Imminent Armageddon via indiscriminate firing leading to genocidal-scale mass murder".
Those of us with practical experience which proves how wrong all three of the above statements are find ourselves being drowned out. For example, I have only claimed what I was entitled to (and I did that reluctantly), if you have ever had the pleasure of meeting my Mum you will know she fully submersed herself in English life and played by the same rules as everybody else, oh and I have been up close and personal with an Armed Police Officer on my own and survived the experience without injury. I also follow a few Armed Police Officers on Twitter. They are almost friendlier than the non-armed Officers in some cases.
I could ramble on about how my practical experiences of the world around me do not match up to the theoretical knowledge presented by the "Mainstream Media" until I am blue in the face. I could also round up a few of my friendly "Human Library Books" and get them to tell you their side of the story. However, until there is a major culture shift - resulting in a Society where everybody's practical experiences of the world as we know it are treated as being equally valid to the received wisdom theory of how the world works - I honestly cannot see a way forward to a more just society.
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