We must never mistake education for school. While school usually teaches us something, education can happen anywhere at the hands of anyone. I've found that learning from other people is a very valuable experience. What others have accomplished, what they have learned, what they know, and what they suggest are all lessons I lap up when meeting someone new, bumping into an old friend, or hearing someone else's stories.
But we can't learn these lessons if we're unwilling to attend the impromptu school known as conversation. When we shut ourselves off and only participate in the planned dialogues (phone calls, emails, meetings) with those we already know, wisdom is left sitting on the table and we are the lesser for it.
Most of this wisdom never reaches us because of our unwillingness to engage. And often times, all it takes is a set of white headphones.
You'll never learn anything if you're marked as unapproachable. And I know of no better way to do that than to turn on your iPod, wear a frown, or look busy. Show the world that you're occupied and it will leave you alone. And if you never get to engage with others or open yourself up to the spontaneous learning that comes from meeting someone new, you may never get the knowledge you need to accomplish something important.
Just for a day, let's open ourselves to learning something new by putting away our headphones, extending our hand for an introduction, and asking those we meet, "What's your story?"
Remember when your teacher used to call roll in school? You'd raise your hand or say, "Present."
When you become approachable to others, you're telling the world you're here, you're present, and you're ready to learn, to become someone smarter, wiser, and better than you are right now.
The conversations we don't have are the books we never open, the classes we never take, and the lessons we never learn.