There are two schools of school in the world and while I have come to believe my spirit belongs to one I have enthusiastically spent most of my life in the other.
From primary school to post-graduate education, from short courses to long ones, the same process has been applied to my acquisition of knowledge: a well-worn process of studying, cramming and passing. Rinse and repeat. These have genuinely been some of the happiest and most rewarding times of my life, yet also the most trying and most boring. And I’m not done yet.
Curiously, some sections of the business world ask little of us intellectually. The bigger the business, the more it requires us to surrender independent thought to processes more proven, models well-tested and actions risk averse. Creative thinking is reserved for ‘away days’ and a whiteboard. Imagination distilled to something that can be expressed in a spreadsheet.
While learning and applying and learning and applying, something counterproductive happens. We stop wondering. Which is a shame as I have come to learn, there is a lot to be found in wonder.
I didn’t work this out until I left it all and had time to wonder when I realised that some of the richest insights come when we have space and time to reflect. And I got to thinking that with wine there is a lot to be discovered outside the classroom, especially when it comes to learning about place.
Who better to offer lessons about place than the grand masters themselves: the modern naturalists. American writer Barry Lopez wrote in his essay The Naturalist that “almost every day I go down to the river with no intention but to sit and watch.” He has done this for thirty years and encourages us to “pay attention to the mystery”. Charles Darwin observed what became known as the theory of natural selection many years before he wrote about it; wondering and observing for three decades in between. And everyone’s favourite outdoorsman, Henry David Thoreau, famously checked out for two years where he “went to the woods because he wished to live deliberately” before writing the spirited person’s guidebook, Walden. Consciously or not, they all gave themselves time and space to observe the world, rather than rushing to collect information to then be recited back in the appropriate order as proof of knowledge.
To be honest, I don’t feel all that knowledgeable when I can list things about Burgundy because I’ve read them in a book and tasted the wines. Sure, I know more than when I didn’t know the facts, and I know what to look for when I get there, and these pieces will one day join together to form knowledge, but it feels a bit superficial. I feel as if I’m cheating; like saying I’ve experienced Italy because I’ve read the guidebook and eaten at Grossi Florentino.
I’m not arguing against a particular style of education (how can I? I went to business school) and I am certainly not against education itself. As I said, I’m not even done with it yet. It’s just that I know now that having all the information in the world is not always the answer. There is a whole school out there with no prerequisite but an open mind and a willingness to wonder.
For now, I am not so interested in rote-learning information that I’m likely to forget with the effects of my first celebratory drink. I’m interested in the other kind. I want to wallow in the wonder of wine. I want to get a sense of place by sensing the place – tasting, seeing, smelling and watching, going beyond information and letting it become, as Lopez says, “what the body knows”.
With this in mind, I’ve booked a ticket to the Old World. It seems as good a place as any, where I am going to the vineyards because I wish to learn deliberately.