Sunday, September 14, 2008

On Humility

Everyone knows how many great opportunities there are for all sorts of students at college, particularly at the rather highly regarded institutions such as the one I attend. People speak of pursuing your passions, learning new things about yourself, and gaining really valuable life experience. That is all surely true, but the two weeks or so I've been here at Brown are perhaps insufficient to fully grasp such things. In such a short span of time, however, I already have had strong, important lessons on humility, which have at times been hard for my ego to deal with, but I have already felt their enormous value.

Of course some examples would not go amiss. I'll speak first about karate. Back home in Amherst, I had been second only to sensei himself for five or six years. I still learnt knew techniques, had to be corrected frequently, and was not the absolute top by any means. But still, I did get very used to being above all the other students who trained with me, always being the one, in sensei's absence, to correct their techniques and try to encourage them rather than the other way around. I enjoyed that existence in the dojo, but I realise now that I had forgotten what it was like to be on the other side of that relationship. At Brown I joined the shotokan karate club, and am now a white belt like any other. Of course my knowledge of how to perform the techniques they're teaching is vastly superior to nearly all the other beginning students (except the other few who had done martial arts before), but that is at times more of a hindrance than an asset, not only because there are subtle differences in the way they teach things and the way I learnt things at Moving Zen, but also because I constantly need to remind myself that despite long past experience, I am no longer at the top of the proverbial heap. Luckily, I think that over the course of the three classes I've gone to, I haven't done too badly at that and have managed to do the techniques as well as I possibly can while still being humble and accepting all corrections I'm given, no matter how different they be from what I was taught back at home.

There is also a second example, which was far harder for me to deal with than that of karate, this being in my "demotion" in Japanese class. Apparently I did quite well on the placement test and was put into a fourth-year class. Over the first week and a half, the class felt very easy and manageable to me, but on Friday, after class, our sensei asked to talk to me and the other two freshmen in the class after class, and told us that she though we'd be much better off in third-year. She talked to each of us separately, so I don't know what she said to the other two specifically, but she said to me that what I had done on a homework assignment demonstrated that despite well-developed skill in some areas, my writing was far too unnatural and showed that I needed to learn a lot in terms of what was culturally appropriate to write to people, and that third-year taught a lot of that stuff. I told her that I agreed with her and would go to check out the third-year class on Monday (which, of course, I haven't done yet because it's still Sunday), and mentally knew that she was right, but there was another part of my mind, or perhaps of my body, which was nearly eaten up with nonsensical indignation. No matter how much my higher parts tried to explain to my lower parts that this was for the best and was a good lesson in humility, it seemed that my other part might simply collapse in depression. Luckily, another part of my brain realised the precarious state I was in and released some chemical into my body that made me kind of excited about taking third-year Japanese, but it took a long time. I am now fully prepared, psychologically and spiritually, to go to third-year, but it was a long climb to arrive there.

The lessons I learnt from the above experiences are ones I already knew and could have preached to others about for hours even before coming, but this is, I believe, the first time I was really forced to experience what they teach, and I'm quite thankful for it now in rather near retrospect. Undoubtedly several more such shocking lessons will unveil themselves sooner than I expect.

Lil Mugi

1 comment:

ATL said...

good for you, liam. one of these days I'll write a real post about swarthmore.