How many times have you heard those words in the past year?
Spoken by hospital trusts, politicians, business leaders, teachers and religious leaders. If lessons were really learned every time those four words were spoken, we would live in a wiser, healthier, fairer and safer society.
Yet we do not. So, what is going on?
Recently I have spent six mornings trying to guide a study group through the whole of the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy contains three sermons preached by Moses in one day. What made these sermons so significant were two things: the people were on the cusp of entering the promised land and Moses was about to die.
The prospect of death does concentrate the mind. So does a fresh beginning.
In the past year the whole world has, due to the pandemic, been walking through the valley of the shadow of death. We also stand on the edge of the promised land of the “new normal”, a promise offered by a shot in the arm.
Some would say that the vaccine development and roll out has been near on miraculous. Others have seen it as a catalogue of disasters.
As a UK citizen it is hard to see the death of 125,000+ people as part of a story of unqualified success.
When mis-steps occur and disaster strikes, we know we are going to hear those four words again: ‘Lessons have been learned’.
What Deuteronomy reminds us of is that human beings seldom learn lessons. What we tend to do is blunder on as if nothing has happened, or at least until the next time things fall apart and we are back in front of the microphone saying for the umpteenth time that we are ‘learning lessons’.
What did Paul say about those “who are ever learning but never come to the knowledge of the truth”?
What does it mean to learn a lesson?
Clearly it means to put our hands up and admit when we have got it wrong.
Yet with all the public apologies I have heard over the past twelve months I am beginning to doubt that “sorry is the hardest word”! It seems to be easier and easier to be sorry: sorry for slavery, sorry for medical negligence, sorry for the exam fiasco and sorry to those who have been abused by those in authority, whether in the home, workplace or the church.
When will we learn that an apology does not mend anything? When will we learn that saying ‘lessons have been learned’ means nothing unless lessons have been learned?
The sign that a lesson has been learned is that we do something about it. Things get better, attitudes change, the conditions of those who have suffered loss improve, and justice is done and seen to be done.
Anything else is just empty words.
Preachers deal in words. It is crucial that when we use them, we mean what we say. If we are to make claims and promises, we need to make sure that we deliver on them.
The “lessons have been learned” brigade have over promised but under delivered.
Is there something we could learn from that?