3.c.2 – It is important to make our own experiences?

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April 3, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

It is important to make our own experiences?

There are things which by their own nature must be learned by experience, as walking, managing our friendships etc.., others instead are learnt by the experiences of others, such as math, history, geography etc. . In fact, the distinction is not so clear: there is almost always a component of direct experience and a cultural component; for instance, math is based much on teaching, but to be well understood long hours of exercises are needed, it is therefore essential also to make direct experience.
To say that everyone, especially young people, must do their own experiences, is just obvious, but we must be very careful regarding the true extent of that assertion because otherwise it may degenerate up to illogically justify any misconduct. For example, the experience of others, summarized in accurate scientific data, shows that smoking is harmful and sometimes lethal: is it then logical to assume that is normal for teenagers to smoke because they “must make their own experiences”?
We know that cultural transmission is a survival strategy of nature, which saves much time compared to learning by direct experience, but not all experiences are good for cultural transmission. In some cases it is therefore convenient to repeat the experience at every generation, maybe with a small cultural integration. Children must explore directly the world around them, but being controlled, protected and lovingly advised by parents, who always make sure no evil happens to them.
It is not always easy to determine whether it is better to follow and control the children, risking to be oppressive, or let them free, subjected to unnecessary risks; instinctively parents tend to follow their personal history, often feeling it is right to do certain experiences and follow a certain path because this is what they made. This point of view is based on two assumptions:
– the education received and experience made by parents is the best possible or at least of a good level;
– experiences of parents do not represent a major risks for children.
It is easily demonstrated that these assumptions are not always true: not everyone had good parents, some have been neglected, some others parents have been too oppressive, so if the children follow their example, they would also be bad parents; learning to drive a motorcycle requires a significant component of direct experience, but at the time of our grandparents, when very few cars were circulating, it did not present the same risk of today in a big city oppressed by traffic. We cannot therefore solely rely on instinct, but also on a rational assessment of risks in today’s world.

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