Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

How do we learn?

Written by: on February 24, 2020

Haidt wrote that learning is hard work but primarily comes through experience. “This book is about why it’s so hard for us to get along. We are indeed all stuck here for a while, so let’s at least do what we can to understand why we are so easily divided into hostile groups, each one certain of its righteousness.”

And, concurrently, if we are to get along better Haidt writes that “we need to step back, drop the moralism, apply some moral psychology, and analyze the game we’re all playing.”[1]

He goes on to write that he studies “moral psychology, and I’m going to make the case that morality is the extraordinary human capacity that made civilization possible.”[2]

So, where did our morals evolve from? Haidt seems to indicate from experience. Let me see here. I was sitting with my grandson in a McDonalds having a wonderful breakfast. I used the word stupid and he went off to correct me! So, where did my grandson learn that saying something or judging someone as stupid is not a nice thing to say? Especially if Gpa says something is so J I mean ever Scripture defines what is stupid (Proverbs 12:1). On the other hand, and idiot defined from Strong’s Concordance #2399 indicates something different than the usual connotation (i.e., idiot: a private person, unlearned, ignoramus, ignorant, rude, unlearned).

A brief backstory of where he lives would be helpful. My grandson lives in Sandersville, Georgia. Sandersville is a small, yet very wealthy city. The children and grandchildren of those who built this city still own the founding businesses and basically run the ethos of the town. But, as deep-seated a fundamental city this is, it is a lovely city with a strong sense of family. American flags wave regularly, cemeteries are clean, antebellum style architecture is proudly saved from destruction.

My grandson may have learned the repercussions of saying something inappropriate from experience, but he did not learn it was inappropriate by experimenting with the word. Unlike Haidt’s liberal bent, my grandson is not a little liberal child or growing up in a liberal community. It was directly derived from familial and from his teachers that he stumbled into this journey of the entomology of a word through life in search of meaning and connection.

Haidt’s indication that parents and other authorities were obstacles to moral development[3] may be true, especially if parents do not optimize on their positions to become life-coaches along with some imposing norms. I would bet that my grandson learned more about prudent morals from stories about what good looks like in the community.

As I informally study communities, especially families, local congregations, and congregational leaders I have often wondered why throngs of support for ones train of thought is upheld and some are not. Is it the stories from key influencers?

Are the loudest voices most influential because they are purely the loudest, is it because of a threat or fear of some sort of pain? Illeris wrote this about how we learn. “Developments in the field of psychology are making it increasingly apparent that studies in the learning process derive their chief significance for education from the conceptions of mind which lie back of them. What we conceive or assume the mind to be is of determining influence, both in the field of method and in the realm of values or goals.” [4] Essentially, learning is much more than experimental. Learn is seeking to apply what key influencers tell us what is prudent. But we do agree that experiences; practice helps us learn. Our community: family, teachers in the educational system, pastor (probably), and those we worship with have conveyed to us that different ethos of a community is what helps us learn.

One more case. The community where learning happened for the Israelites happened in experience AND from stories and modeling of their leaders. Moses received from God what people were to obey. God walked among the people. “For the LORD your God moves about in your camp to protect you and to deliver your enemies to you. Your camp must be holy so that he will not see among you anything indecent and turn away from you” (Deuteronomy 23:14).

Means of learning includes experiences, stories, visualizing, verbally, kinesthetically, reasoning, socially, and in solitary (from my experience). How will help others learn what we are learning in our doctoral of ministry program? If our learning is merely to tell right from wrong or a dissertation left on a shelf, then I would argue that we are not really learning, and we are neglecting a true benefit of learning.

Lessons I’ve observed from my grandson.








[1] Jonathan Haidt, “The Righteous Mind,” New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, preface, Kindle Edition.

[2] Ibid., location 60.

[3] Ibid., 10.

[4] Knud Illeris, “How We Learn: Learning and Non-Learning in School and Beyond,” Hoboken: Taylor and Francis, 2007.

About the Author

Steve Wingate

7 responses to “How do we learn?”

  1. Dylan Branson says:

    Steve, I think you’re spot on about the importance of story in forming our morality and our learning. Stories help to invite us into a greater identity than ourselves; it gives a larger spectrum of meaning to us and to our lives. Part of leaning into a community is leaning into the stories that shaped it. We all have narratives that are interwoven through our lives and they become more tangible when they are interwoven with other people’s stories. I wouldn’t say that the key influencers are the loudest so much as they know how to invite people into a story and cultivate a shared identity.

    Part of the beauty of Scripture is that it invites us to see our part in the Great Story that God is writing through all of history. It effectively cultivates an identity that we can share with generations upon generations of people that give us a deeper meaning to our lives.

  2. Chris Pollock says:

    The groups we tend towards and why?

    ‘The game.’ As one who wears his heart on his sleeve, has it been a challenge to play ‘the game’? I have been invited to play this game and, choosing not to seems to be not only a ‘game changer’ but, in the world as it is, a ‘door closer’.

    We just can’t take anything personally, can we? Is it appropriate even, for us to take things personally without giving due time to analyse information that beckons a response?

    Thankful for your insights, Steve!

  3. Greg Reich says:

    Great post! The aspect of learning in community is key to many of the things we learn. I would agree that the loudest voice isn’t always the most influential. Often the voice that prevails it the one who has sought to understand and took the time to connect. Sadly, it is not always the wisest voice that prevails. How in community to we assure that wisdom prevails?

  4. John McLarty says:

    Haidt stresses our “tribal” nature for both its positive and negative aspects. We’ve been able to create complex societies that have allowed greater human achievement, but that’s also led to conflict both within the tribes and among them. We learn that trust is best developed when we sense that we are among those who share similarities in culture and differences seem scary. Certainly the faith community relies heavily on the power of story and we long for those moments when it seems like everyone is on the same page and moving in the same direction. But to what extent does that just reinforce our tribal nature to align with those who are just like us? How do we embrace a posture of learning from those who are different? When your grandson is taught that “stupid” is not a nice word, (as my kids were taught in preschool as well,) is he just being indoctrinated into a world where unpleasant truths are never spoken, or is he being offered ways of learning how to use more descriptive words to convey his thoughts or feelings?

  5. Jer Swigart says:


    I, too, appreciate the notion of stories as valuable tools to transmit morals. I think we see the Exodus story as one of the most referenced narratives that Biblical authors utilize in order to teach a monotheistic ethic. This is different than stories as commodities to be consumed for our own entertainment as seems to be the common understanding of the role of story today. Do you think stories shape character or inform of us of the morals that the storyteller prefers? And as a grandfather, how do you utilize stories in the formation of your grandkids? How do you use stories (beyond illustrations) as a pastor?

  6. Darcy Hansen says:

    As I consider your thoughts, I have a sense that it’s a shared story, a common memory, that is most formative in a community. I wonder how much of our conflict is due to our lack of shared story in society? We all come from different ancestors from around the world. Many lack a grounding that comes from belonging to a particular people located in a specific place. Scripturally, that was something the story tellers had in common with the listeners. We lack that connection, so I wonder if that is part of the reason so few people are able to truly embody the words of scripture in their daily lives?

    And by the way, “stupid” was the “S” word in our home, because like your grandson, my kids were raised in the south;)

  7. Shawn Cramer says:

    Steve, I might add that our learning isn’t only information to shared but formational to offer ourselves. The world would benefit both from the ideas of Haidt (in this example) as well as a person who embodies the ability to listen empathetically of the “other side.”

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