Many great minds have commented on the relationship between theory and practice. Words like abstract, speculation and conjecture are among the definitions of theory, whereas practice is typically thought of as a conscious effort to get better at something. Today I join the conversation as I contemplate the powerful relationship between practice and theory.
It is not unusual for my optimistic doggie mind to agree with great transcendentalist philosopher and writer Ralph Waldo Emerson and today is no exception to the rule. “An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory,” Emerson once said. So which comes first, Mr. Emerson, the chicken or the egg? The action or the theory? The thought or the behavior?
To answer this puzzle I dip my toe into a casual chat about philosophy and end up in the deep end of psychology. I am a believer that we are what we think, in agreement with German philosopher Immanuel Kant. “Experience without theory is blind,” Kant suggested, “but theory without experience is mere intellectual play.”
Kant’s commentary brings to mind my mom’s journey with her sight. When she was a small girl, she was deemed legally blind with very little hope of the adult normalcy that sight has to offer. Thanks to what she refers to as her little miracle, she can now see almost perfectly with the help of prescription glasses.
Everything she sees is through those lenses. Those lenses are her looking glass to the world. This is how I see theory. Our theories are the lenses through which we view the world, providing our looking glass to all things. Our theories are the lenses filtering our perception of our surroundings. And just as mom carefully selected the lenses she wears each day, I dare say we choose the theory through which we opt to see the world on a daily basis.
It’s no secret to the world that I have carefully selected rose-colored glasses through which to view my world. My looking glasses are half full, and I’m proud to say they are. But today I gave some thought to these debates about theory and practice and I can’t say my life experiences enable me to agree with the popular opinion.
Experience lends itself to theory, but (in my doggie heart) the relationship between the two is give and take. “He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast,” said history’s most effective multi-tasker Leonardo da Vinci.
Indeed, it is not enough to see the world through a half-full pair of lenses. We need to practice what we preach. This is why I blog, why I share as much of my joy as I can with the world. “To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with,” said great American author and humorist Mark Twain. So which comes first, Mr. Twain, the chicken or the egg? The action or the theory? The thought or the behavior?
Who knows. What I know for sure is my thoughts influence my behavior on a daily basis. I live to see and share joy, from the ground up. “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived,” Emerson said, “This is to have succeeded.”