There’s a proverb commonly used about experience. It says, “Experience is the best teacher.” People certainly seem to believe that when it comes to jobs. Having some work experience can certainly make it easier to get hired. I’d say fire and heat is another area where we’re great believers in the teaching power of experience. As Tolkien wrote, “The burned hand teaches best.” One of the reasons I trust my doctor when he gives me a diagnosis is because he’s experienced. The checker at the supermarket who has been there a few years is definitely faster than the brand new one. I’d rather take my car to a mechanic who has some experience than one who doesn’t. Pilots should definitely be experienced. I don’t want to book a flight on somebody’s first ever attempt.

Experience, while not the be-all-end-all (other factors, like education, work ethic, and a good attitude are important, too), has advantages. People with it can work more smoothly and efficiently. Common pitfalls are generally more adroitly avoided, and experienced people fumble less. Somebody who knows the territory usually gets lost less than somebody who has never been there before.

So if education is twelve kinds of awesome, why is it that sometimes having experience is held against you? What makes some kinds of experience a “bad thing,” not to be trusted, or somehow a problem? It’s almost like there’s sometimes a prejudice in place.

See, my dad wasn’t the world’s best dad. He wasn’t the world’s worst, either, but he was closer to worst than best. He beat my sibs and I and did other things that loving fathers aren’t supposed to do to their children. Abuse and neglect are strong themes in my childhood story, making for lots of hard experiences, and I most certainly did learn things from those experiences. I will be the FIRST to admit that some of what I learned was bad, like how to hurt and manipulate other people. Being afraid of my father is not a good thing to have learned, either.

Other people’s reactions to my story can be pretty interesting. Some people are very sympathetic and supportive. Others can clearly relate all too well, some are unsympathetic, and then there’s another group. They acknowledge that I was hurt, but then seem to hold that against me. I’ve been told that my beliefs or opinions about family, parents, church, and all kinds of things probably are just the result of pain and bitterness and therefore couldn’t possibly be valid. I don’t get that reaction. I think it’s condescending, not to mention rude and lazy and sometimes self-protective. Quite frankly, I’d rather deal with outright hostility than deal with somebody who believes that I’m so crippled by my past that I’ll never be able to “walk. “

I do understand that sometimes when people have been badly wounded, they aren’t necessarily reasonable or rational. I know that it’s easy to become set upon what a person knows, those lousy experiences, and to refuse to grow. I know bitterness is a sweetly fired, spreading poison that gnaws the bones. But just because somebody is unreasonable or irrational and not necessarily objective, does that make them wrong? Does that invalidate their opinion? Does it make their information worthless? Should we merely humor and otherwise dismiss them? If “the burned hand teaches best,” why on earth would the burn victim’s experience be counted as less than the person who hasn’t faced the flames?

I am not saying that experience can’t be a problem. It can be. It sure can be. All the wrong lessons that keep a person bound and crippled and festering are frequently learned from painful experiences. I just don’t think it’s fair or right or very smart to uncritically discount what those have faced flames have learned. If nothing else, even if they’re all wrong, simply listening without dismissal can tell them that they matter.

Thanks for listening!