I don’t like to live on the fence,
But I find that I often live in two tents.
-Quote from The Arabian Prince of Camdelay*
There is a paradox in learning. It is the paradox of the two tents.
On one side are those who are content. On the other dwell those who live in discontent. It appears that both have something to teach us about learning.
The content people have discovered that there is more to life than
acquiring enough possessions to keep up with everyone else. They can
smile in the midst of life’s storms. They are gracious in the moments
of life’s rewards. They are like a man named Paul**, who was shackled
in a prison cell when he wrote the words…
"I’ve learned by now to be
quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m
just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve
found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or
hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through
Being content doesn’t come naturally, it’s not simply a matter of genetic disposition. One must learn
to be content. It is in the circumstances and experiences of living that
I am finding the lessons of contentedness. The content person lives
with an internal sense of security that is fueled by the understanding
that "what happens to me isn’t as important as what happens in me."
Contentedness is a matter of character and integrity. The content
person has learned to live with him or herself everyday, not reacting
to life, but rather, responding to it with an intentionality and
"Until you make peace with who you are, you’ll never be
content with what you have." – Doris Mortman
But there’s another side to this thing: the discontent people have something to teach me as well.
The discontent people aren’t satisfied with the way things are. They
wish, hope, and work toward changing things around. They see something
that works and want to tweak it and make it better. They are often
pleased but never satisfied. They want something more. The discontent person has discovered that there ARE things worth being
discontented over. There are things that need to change, that need to
grow, that need to improve. They relate well to the words of
Elizabeth Huxsley, who said,
"Only man is not content to leave things
as they are but must always be changing them, and when he has done so,
is seldom satisfied with the result."
The discontent person wants to
reach higher, stretch farther, build bigger (or smaller), and make
And so with learning comes this paradox – I must be both content and discontent. I must live in these two tents.
Working with college students, I am encouraged by their
desire to grow and learn. They live each day in this paradox. They desperately want permission to be who they are with the hope of becoming more.
They want to discover their core self, learning to be comfortable
in their own skin, yet, they continually challenge the process.
Students who thrive in this setting are the ones who discover how to
live within the tension of these two polarities.
Learning is enhanced by the balance between these two tents. Live too long on one side and it may hamper your learning.
If a person is content with everything, then what will inspire him or
her to change? Contentedness can easily lead to comfortableness or false pride, which
can lead to stagnation.
If a person is discontent with everything, then what do they have left
for secure footing in life? Discontendedness can become bitterness or
cynicism, which leads to hopelessness.
It is the mixture of being content and discontent that guides one toward continued learning and maturity.
How have you experienced this in your own life? In what ways are you both content and discontent? How do you live in both tents?
*The Arabian Prince of Camdelay is a fictional work that doesn’t exist. I made the whole thing up to help the little rhyme (which I also made up) sound a bit more literary (literally!).
**Paul is not a fictional character, but was a real person who wrote quite a few letters. This quote comes from The Letter to The Philippians (4:11-14) out of the New Testament.
Tim Milburn writes at studentlinc – a webblog devoted to developing lifelong leaders one student at a time. He recently created the MPOW- Meeting|Planner|Organizer|Worksheet which is being downloaded daily at an alarming pace. Tim also dabbles in graphic|logo|web design and will often create things for Rosa because she’s such a great person.