3 Pillars of Learning

Bill Abbate

Some of the world’s most extraordinary and admired leaders have come from the United Kingdom. I have always been fond of three British prime ministers — Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, and Benjamin Disraeli. Each ranks with some of the top leaders in history.

Learning from a top leader

While each of the three prime ministers made many profound statements in their books and speeches, Disraeli is one of the UK’s most quoted authors and politicians. Many of his words contain fascinating insights and wisdom. Like Churchill and Thatcher, he was a master of the art of communication.

As a lifelong learner, one particular statement made by Disraeli recently grasped my interest.

“Seeingmuch,sufferingmuch, andstudyingmuch, are the three pillars of learning.”Benjamin Disraeli (1804–1881)

Disraeli’s thoughts are as sound today as they were more than a century ago. Let’s look at each of his three pillars of learning.

  • Seeing much
  • Suffering much
  • Studying much

Seeing much

Using a bit of subjective interpretation, by “seeing much,” Disraeli means being able to understand and experience much is vital to learning.

“The only source of knowledge is experience.” Albert Einstein (1879–1955)

Common sense tells us experience, called empirical knowledge by the well-known philosopher Kant, helps us see or understand things. Understanding, most of which comes from experience, is foundational to all learning.

“Any fool can know.The point is to understand.”Albert Einstein (1879–1955)

For example, if you were a politician and author like Disraeli, the way to learn deeply would be to develop first-hand experience and understanding through the work required for each role.

The bottom line is life is all about experience and understanding. How could we exist without such learning taking place?

“Nothing ever becomes real till it isexperienced.” John Keats(1795–1821)

Suffering much

There is little question some of our greatest lessons come through suffering from failure, loss, or poor judgment. You become acutely aware of this fact the longer you live.

To be human is to experience suffering. Without suffering, many life lessons would not be as meaningful. Every time we suffer from loss, failure, or poor decisions, we can learn a lesson that will stick with us for life. Lessons learned from suffering are some of the most consequential we can experience.

“This is suffering’s lesson: pay attention.” Sarah Manguso (1974-present)

Lessons of suffering can include losing a loved one, difficulties and failures in your career, life in general, or making poor choices. One thing for sure is you seldom forget what you learn from such difficulties.

Many books and articles exist about how famous people failed many times before becoming successful. A personal example of suffering is when my first wife died of cancer. I learned so many lessons about life from her death I could write volumes about them. It is one of the reasons I have devoted my life to writing and publishing articles that help people live better lives.

Imagine how stunted our learning would be were it not for suffering.

Studying much

There is no question we must study to learn. Since we come into the world knowing nothing, there is no other option. Where do you think the endless questions of a young person come from? The constant questions of a child is the early stage of studying to learn about everything that captures their curiosity. This studying becomes more formal in school and is a crucial part of every life.

The studying required in school is part of what prepares us for life. It only makes sense the more one studies, the greater one learns. Of course, this only happens when the person has enough interest and comes to understand the subject.

“The more we study the more we discover our ignorance.” Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)

Studying alone is not enough without seeing and suffering to learn life lessons. But together, the three pillars of learning are complete.

Sadly, too many quit studying once they finish school. Because they stop learning, they stall in life. If it is not corrected, it will lead to atrophy. That is not the direction to go!

“Never regard study as a duty, but as the enviable opportunity to learn.” Albert Einstein (1879–1955)

Final thoughts

You can view Disraeli’s three pillars of learning as a three-legged stool. Removing or shortening one of the legs can make the stool useless, leading to ineffectiveness and insufficiency.

By concentrating on the three pillars throughout life, you continue to grow, which every human being is meant to do. When you stop growing, look out! That is not a place to be.

“In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future.” Eric Hoffer (1902–1983)


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Semi-Retired-Leadership/Executive Coach -Personal & Career Growth Expert -Editor and Leadership Writer at Illumination -Author

Richmond, VA
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