Still different (and crazy) after all these years

In just a few months, Renee’ and I will be hitting the quarter century milestone of marriage. As I think about it, I realze that two and half decades really isn’t that long. At all. The break-neck speed of life has been all too real recently - and it sometimes takes my breath away. Like a freefall on a roller coaster.

But that’s not what this particular blog is supposed to be about at all. So, I’ll get back to my subject.

Even after 25 years, I am amazed at how different we are, yet how well we work together.

Renee’ and I were comparing notes the other day, as we prepared for a couples bible study we are doing with some Mongolian friends of ours. This photo pretty much sums up the results.

It’s funny how very differently we think. Renee’ is organized and systematic. Her notes end up being clean, linear, color-coded charts laid out in her very neat handwriting (my wife has the best handwriting of anyone I know).

My notes? Scattered and random words in my Field Notes brand notebooks (I really do love these notebooks) with lines and arrows, in barely discernable scribbles. There is chaos and random (but ARE they random?) connections on the page, and typically I’ve done this while talking to myself the entire time like an insane person.

We laughed at our differences. However, we ended up coming to many similar conclusions and convictions, and, ultimately, had an excellent Bible study with our friends.

This incident has me thinking a little more this week about the way God has wired our brains. Much research and work has been accomplished surrounding issues like “learning styles” and “multiple intelligence” theory. This is a much larger and more complex subject than a 1000 word blog has any business getting into. However, I do think it’s a subject that should be explored by the individual, and especially those who are involved with cross-cultural work.

Understanding How You Learn - Cross-Culturally

Hind-sight is always 20/20. Maybe even 20/10. When we first came to Mongolia and were sitting in Mongolian language class, Renee’ and I quickly discovered that our learning styles were very different. I am not sure that we had defined them at that point … but we knew we were going to learn Mongolian in very different ways. This became evident to the point of frustration. Thankfully we ended up being in separate classes, or we may not have made it to the 25 year milestone anniversary we are looking forward to at the moment.

I do believe a better understanding of our own learning styles on the front end, would have made us both better language and culture students. Renee’ needed to “see” (she’s a highly visual learner). She perhaps would have been more patient with herself when it came to listening (she’s visual, not aural), and perhaps looked more carefully at strategies for getting the listening part. I would have made sure that I was in a place of constant “usage” from early on … more listening and talking and less writing, but also come up with strategies for getting the “grammar and writing” areas, where my natural inclinations are weaker.

Bottom line, understanding these things would have given us both some advanced warning as to where we’d be strong, where we’d be weak, and we both might have avoided some serious potholes along the way, not only in our personal learning, but in understanding each other. .

This goes for more than how to learn a language. It goes to how to teach a language (this is Renee’s work right now). It even goes with how to learn a culture, which is a never-ending process. I’m finding that self-awareness in this area is critical to success. This goes for students, as well as teachers.

When teaching, I must remember that many (if not most) of the learners in my current context are most likely NOT aural learners like I am. They may not have the intellectual or emotional patience for lectures, listening and an abundance of words. They may have a need to talk, interact, take notes, do something with their hands, see a picture, make a chart or act out what is being taught. I have two friends (you know who you are) who make detailed and intricate drawings while listening to a sermon or sitting in a meeting. It looks like they are not paying a bit of attention to anything that’s happening, but can report back every detail when all is said and done.

It is interesting to read the research being done in the area of learning styles and related studies in multiple intelligence theory. It is perhaps even more useful to understand ourselves, our personal learning style along with the strengths and weakness of potential various intelligences. Gary Thomas takes some of this research and applies it to spirituality and the way individuals might relate to God in an interestesting way. His book Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Soul's Path to God can be a helpful and liberating read in this regard.

Liberating. That’s what understanding this about yourself can be. It eliminates a lot of self-flagellating when I don’t feel as smart as the next guy because I suck at math and have a terrible sense of direction. Logical-mathematical is only one area of intelligence. It keeps me from being critical of the person who can’t keep time when clapping to a song (musical-rhythmical is actually a thing!), when the same person may have great smarts in another area. The modality by which I learn new skills (like language and culture) will be very different from the modality which my wife, or my kids, or my co-workers will learn new skills.

God has wired us all in very different ways.

If properly understood, those differences are what makes marriage … and community … beautiful.

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