How can we learn more from our everyday encounters? How do conversations that explore messy human situations compare with what we learn by talking about big issues and ideas?

While we may see the inherent value of learning from real life by cultivating a spirt of inquiry, we should also be mindful of scope. It may not be obvious that insights gained from talking about big ideas–such as what sensible leaders ought to be doing–rarely change how people actually interact with others on a daily basis.

In other words, valuable conversations about big ideas may change beliefs and opinions, but habits change in a different way.

If we are looking to continuously develop our communication and collaboration habits, for example, we need greater insight into how we handle micro-situations. Then we can regroove our neural pathways by experimenting and putting into practice what we’ve learned from these revelations.

As big thinker and do-er Jerry Sternin has observed, “It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking, than to think your way into a new way of acting.” Do we want to take more responsibility for our actions? Do we too often blame others when things don’t go well? There is a litmus test that reveals our progress toward regrooving such habits. It’s called the say-do gap: Do my actions match my words; my espoused beliefs?

Talking about big ideas with other inquiring minds is essential for any participating member of society. Yet discussions about what ought to be happening “out there” can sometimes be abstract and facile. It’s easier to keep an emotional distance, for instance, when advocating “justice for all” than when talking about my actions this morning.

Over time, wrestling with slice-of-life situations gives us a fresh view of how we make hundreds of day-to-day decisions. As we notice more details and possibilities for moving forward, we become more empathetic, and confident in our judgment. Plus we can have an immediate sense of whether we’re making real progress.

When thinking about social learning clubs, it’s helpful to understand the advantages of wrestling with micro-situations as well as exploring big ideas.

-Sharon VanderKaay