Want to avoid learning? Want to ignore the lessons? Then find the inevitable exception and cling to it! Argue passionately! Vehemently!

As a leader, I run into this on occasion. Someone feels impelled to point out the counterargument or make the minority case. Frequently, there is truth and validity in the other side. But too often, it begs the point. It is redundant or a distraction, a red herring. It can easily become a mental diversion from which you never return, a convenient excuse to ignore the critical lesson being presented.

Every analogy breaks down at some point. There are exceptions to every rule (including this one), and no matter how thinly you slice it, there are always two sides. But unless we wish to revel in “paralysis by analysis,” we must move forward. We must learn what we can, pick a direction——a star to steer by——and embark on our journey.

I used to respond by pressing my case. These days I’m much more likely to acknowledge the point made, cheerfully concede that exceptions can exist, invite others to learn what they will, and then move on with my point.

We learn only when we are open to learning. If we prefer the painful process of learning only from our own stumbles, if we insist on collecting every scrape, bump, and bruise personally, so be it. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. I’ve refused to learn often enough in my own life.

I’ve often refused lessons because they were not presented in just the perfect manner to avoid upsetting my ego, or they did not come at just the pace and manner my learning style preferred, or perhaps because I was just plain ornery and stubborn.

Yes, be skeptical. Of course, you should not accept everything at face value. Use your brain and intellect. Just do not be in such haste to toss out the chaff that you overlook the wheat. Be wary of being too fast to reject the lesson, of being too quick to skip the learning moment.

Look for the lesson in all events, look for the wisdom in all things, for whatever you look for you will find. If you look for a good reason to ignore the lesson, then you will find that, too.

One of the sneakiest ways the dark side of the human ego has to defend itself is the, “Yes, but…” response. Yes, it is true but it does not apply to me because (fill in the excuse du jour). When I find myself playing the “Yes, but…” mental card, I endeavor to go a bit deeper and ask myself why I’m so quick to run from this particular lesson. What is it that I do not want to admit? What inner truth am I reluctant to face?

Look for what you can use, not for what you can refuse. Take a moment to think back about what you have rejected this past week. Any possibility you may have overlooked a valuable lesson?

This is a classic from the NSC Blog archive, originally posted September 18, 2008.