No matter your age, the Exploratorium in San Francisco is a fabulous feast for the mind. In some senses it’s a science museum. However to call it just this is to do it a complete disservice, because it’s actually a vast collection of scientific experiments begging to be played with. It’s been described as “a mad scientist’s penny arcade, a scientific funhouse, and an experimental laboratory all rolled into one”, with which I’d completely agree.
I first went to the old Exploratorium as a student in my early twenties, then Alex, I and our two girls recently had a totally brilliant day when we visited its new and latest incarnation after its re-opening a little over a year ago.
The museum’s stated mission is to change the way the world learns, and if you’re ever lucky enough to spend some time there yourself one day, I’m sure you wouldn’t argue with that. In fact the old Exploratorium was founded at the end of the 1960s under the inspired leadership of physicist and educator Frank Oppenheim (younger brother of J Robert Oppenheimer who is often referred to as one of the “fathers of the atomic bomb” thanks to his work on the Manhattan Project, the World War II mission to develop atomic weaponry).
Younger brother Frank – “the other Oppenheimer” – was a particle physicist and cattle rancher, and as we’ve just seen, someone who had truly exciting views about education and learning. In fact it was he who first said “the best way to learn is to teach”, an idea which came up in a recent conversation Alex had with her friend Simon.
She told him that after practicing Tai Chi for many years, she’d gone on to teach a class herself, which was when she understood that explaining something to others requires that you have a considerably higher level of understanding.
Now, although we reflect from time to time in these posts on the impact that learning itself can have upon your mood, for a minute I’d just like you to think about the general principle of only really understanding something when you’ve first explained it to someone else.
And the “something” I have in mind? Love. Alex wrote beautifully about it yesterday, and now here’s my little variation on her theme.
In the past, when my mood has been low I really didn’t like myself and I certainly didn’t love myself. And of course this self-hatred didn’t exactly help my overall disposition. You despise yourself when your mood’s low, then your mood becomes even lower when you despise yourself.
But after struggling for too many years, what I think I only now properly understand is that the only possible way to have any chance of loving yourself is to first love others, and this seems pretty profound, so I’ll say it again.
The only possible way to have any chance of loving yourself is to first love others.
So please, by all means, think of this as today unfolds – particularly if you’re feeling blue and unloved. Can you make yourself love others? Probably not. But can you at least try?
You know, I think you can.