How something is acquired, so it is retained

The keyword is effort: Effort sustains learning and shapes character


Authenticity is born in the silent purity of effort.

Understanding the depth of meaning in the aphorism, “how something is acquired – so it is retained” is central to authentic teaching, authentic management and leadership, authentic relationships and politics.

Effort.Indian Link

Applied in an educational context, educators will recognise that this is something they know. Educators will always value more the honest effort made by a student when struggling and learning a difficult concept, than the high marks achieved by a bright student who makes no effort. Is this because we intrinsically know that effort shapes character and sustains learning beyond the application of that effort? Teachers have observed that persistence in uncertainty leads to academic success sooner or later, even if years after formal schooling has been completed. It leads to resilience.

Academic prizes given for achievement do not always reflect the effort linked to the achievement. Oft times, authentic effort does translate to exemplary academic performance. However, in the case of innately bright students, this is not necessarily so. Indeed, prizes given for academic achievement at a young age can lead to serious underachievement for bright students in later years.

Such students may not have learned the relationship between effort and outcome; the relationship between fear of failure and bravely studying when there is no guarantee of academic prizes. Focused on prize winning as a feature of knowing, such students are crippled. Tiger parents need to understand this point.

Effort.Indian Link

How learning is approached, the honesty of the effort, the innate desire to learn, will relate to how valued such learning is. When adults voluntarily undertake formal studies, they often state that they enjoy it more than ever because they want to learn. They often say they read more widely, question more deeply, understand more fully. Importantly, the learning is more deeply imbued than learning performed in a hurry and through compulsion.

Modes of acquisition, and thus, consequent retention explain the role of experience. Many students who have been accelerated simply do not have the capacity or ability in school to critique as deeply as older cohorts. Educators in a variety of contexts have observed this. Since experience takes time, and since development cannot be authentically hastened, maturity and insight can simply be a function of lived experience. Trying to force maturity makes people second-guess what they should be doing, saying or thinking.

Similarly, most people would know that cramming as an approach to ‘learning’ involves quick memorising – and such ‘learning’ is equally quickly lost. Understanding, deep knowledge, nuanced critique and thoroughness take time and take effort. Accordingly, retention lasts longer.

Acquisition, retention and ambition

Effort.Indian Link

Unconstrained personal ambition can act counter to an authentic education as competition in education always devalues the achievement of those not placed highly in a hierarchy or where ‘cut off scores’ determine accessibility. To gain success by competing with, and beating, others are never as valued as self-mastery. Insightful people talk of a ‘hollow victory’. The most respected academics, athletes, musicians, writers, innovators and dancers are driven by a passion that transcends. They seek to be their best – not to be the best. They acquire through effort, self-correction, humility and openness to learning. Incidentally, in so doing, they often are the best, but not because that is valued over personal growth or collegiality.

“How” relates to intention

In the saying, the first word “how” is crucial. “How” is not to be measured by external standards. “How” is premised on an understanding of intention. Only a person can know, or learn to discover, what motivates themselves. “How” shapes attitude. Students can see their “how” in the study they undertake done when everyone else is asleep. The stolen moments in transition when others are resting, but their own focus is maintained. It is the training that is done after the scheduled session because the goal is something bigger. It is the practice that is done away from publicity and social media.

Effort.Indian Link

Of course, intention can be applied to other aspects of life: how a contract was won in business, how a material thing was purchased, how a personal relationship was ‘acquired’, the drive for physical ‘perfection’. The subtlety of the aphorism is that in each of these facets of human activity, questions can be asked about the nature of acquisition and retention. A purchase made through the effort of saving is valued more for the discipline and sacrifice made. A thief who acquires something by stealth retains it by mistrust. Similarly, nations conquered by force are held onto through forms of suppression, overt or covert. The issue of how a thing is acquired has deeper ramifications across a range of human experiences.

Beautiful things

The most beautiful things in human experience are usually those that have been built up over time and have been retained with care and protection. The built structures most loved globally have usually been built over time, artistically wrought, carefully attended to, with attention to detail. Accordingly, these structures are highly valued, impressive, monumental.

Beautiful, meaningful things are authentically acquired and authentically retained. For educators and non-educators alike, this aphorism needs serious reflection.