Debunking an Illusion …

Illusions Quotation - Wikipedia

I have used the above quotation from a book I read long ago many times over the years to help others grow and learn.  I share this quotation by asking those present to think about each line and what it represents to them. 

The resulting discussions were usually rich and valuable for both me and those who are participating.  Many folks would accept the implied wisdom in this fine-sounding statement at first, but as we continue to talk, often come to a different perception of what is being said. 

Illusions are like that … we think we see or hear one thing, but upon closer inspection, we were mistaken.

Assumption:  Teaching, as I use this word, is a function both in the academic world and in the work environment.  Teaching may be part of a recognized department (Training, HR) or as part of a job function (Leader, Manager, Director, Supervisor). 

Whatever it is called and wherever it occurs, teaching is a critical part of business success. If you cannot effectively pass on current knowledge and stimulate new learning, you are pretty much caught in a rut … and ruts only help you stay where you already are.  This applies equally in life to our personal and professional growth.

I do not use this bit of wisdom because it is so absolutely true, because it is not.

Let’s unpack this quotation a bit …



If we only learn what we already know, we will never learn anything new.  This is a closed loop concept and my experience tells me that we continually learn new things which we did not know before.  I understand that the learning process usually includes incorporation of new information with old information, but that is not the same in my mind as learning something we already know.

Now the value of discovering connections between what you already know and what you do not yet know cannot be underestimated.


No argument here … this is a reasonably straight-forward statement of the difference between “knowing” and “doing”.  Knowing is passive, while Doing is action-oriented.  When you do something, you are demonstrating what you know about that thing you are doing.


Hmmm … not  as simple as Bach makes it out, but effective teaching IS as much about coaching another to come to an understanding or awareness, as it is sharing your own knowledge.  I remember learning the phrase “Sage on the stage” early in my career, and it always reminds me of the majority of my undergraduate college learning experiences, which were pretty much someone else talking, me listening and writing.  

Nothing wrong with either activity as part of the learning process, but they are leaving out some important elements, such as:

REFLECTION:  The act of thinking about what you have heard and written to come to new understandings.

TESTING:   The act of trying out a new learning to see how well it fits into your concepts and perceptions.

QUESTIONING:  Taking issue with the knowledge you are given.  Looking for logical lapses and non-congruent points, considering the source for potential bias, asking the questions that were not addressed … you know, being quarrelsome;).

So why do I like this quotation so much and use it so consistently?

Simply stated, It makes me think more deeply about how we learn and how we help others to learn …

What quotations about learning and teaching inspire you?

How do you use these quotations to help others learn?

What elements of learning did I leave out above?

Remembering some dreadfully tedious one-way classes in my first college experience in the Heartland …


Image:    “Illusions Richard Bach” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia –


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