If a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words …

Through the ages men have acknowledged the superiority of images over descriptions, resulting in the English idiom, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Early in my Air Force career I realized that training myself and my people was a huge part of mission and personal success. I also learned that words and pictures were inadequate for teaching, especially manual and visual skills. Every parent dreads the words “some assembly required” because we already know the instructions will be laughable.

Therefore I came to rely on actually doing the task. A child learns to catch and throw a ball by … catching and throwing a ball.

Military training for centuries has relied on stepping the individual through his task, building complex skills from simple ones and finally building unit actions from combined individual movements. Soldiers practice disassembling, cleaning and reassembling their weapons in darkness; units practice moving without audible commands; exercises and war games. Something as mundane as a parade exercises unit integrity and movement. During the Cold War we spent many hours getting in and out of chemical warfare gear, which we thankfully never needed, though we came close during the Gulf War as Saddam Hussein (a known chemical agent user) rained Scud missiles on us “somewhere is eastern Saudi Arabia.”

The other night a toilet lever broke. Rather than fix it myself, I showed my son how and let him do it. (In Tom Sawyer fashion, he talked his girlfriend into doing it.) Both of them now know both how to perform a common household repair, but also know that they can do it themselves. (Well, she can.)

So, my update of the idiom is “If a picture is worth a thousand words, a hands-on experience is worth a thousand pictures.”


1 thought on “If a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words …

  1. Makes good sense to me. It’s called mastery – the joy of doing something difficult you didn’t think you could do. For example, figuring out and moving through technical stuff on the computer. Lenore.

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