儿童共和国

Posted March 7th, 2014 and filed in Education
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左边是林木幽深的峡谷,右边是绿树成荫的住宅区。 每次走上这条山路都会很愉快,因为路的尽头就是北温哥华的温莎屋学校(Windsor House School),那里有一群真正快乐的孩子们。

温莎屋学生的父母们,希望孩子快乐胜过希望他们成功,所以只有被父母无条件爱着的孩子才会被送来这里上学。他们的爸爸妈妈大概永远不会说:“如果你……爸爸妈妈就不爱你了”这种让孩子从此一辈子没有安全感的话。这里学生不想上课就不用上课, 不想做作业就没有作业,考试成绩全体家长选择不看。这样的学校,不用说得让所有的“虎妈”“狼爸”发疯,就是最开明的父母,如果你的孩子到了十几岁还不会读,不会写,不会算,而且还不想学, 也得焦虑不堪。有的家长把孩子送来是因为这里的“课外活动”丰富多彩,等他们发现这里并无“课内活动”时,就只好澄清误解,把孩子送到“正常” 学校去。因此,温莎屋学校制定了严格的招生程序以排除不合实际的期望,家长和孩子除了两次与校方面谈外,还包括三天的亲身体验。目前学校有大约150个学生。每年的名额有限,想来而来不了的孩子只能排在等候名单上。

温莎屋学校是小学加中学,收五到十九岁的孩子。但在精神实质上,它更像幼儿园和大学的混合体,在其中孩子们不但爱玩的天性得到尊重,自主的能力也得到信任。

除了不用被迫做任何事情–不管是学习还是活动,学生们还和老师、校长、家长一样,是学校的主人。即使你只有五岁,也和校长有同样分量的一票,可以参加学校的每周大会,提议、通过、或否决各项规章制度。通常孩子们对开会没有什么兴趣,他们有太多自己的事情想干。所以通常的情形是大多数听了议程就一哄而散。只有当家长和老师提出触动他们直接利益的动议,例如禁止吃糖,孩子们才会踊跃出席会议,进行充满说服力的辩论并参与投票,使得这样可恶的提议不能获得多数票通过。他们可以被说服,但不能被强制。他们的权利并非由老师家长赐予,而是由自己掌管。他们只服从自己参与制定的规则。制定、修改或废除规则的过程是真正的学习。

温莎屋学校并非像有些人想象的那样是一所贵族学校。家长中有大学教授也有失业单亲妈妈。大部分家长在二手店买衣服。孩子们也不介意穿着有洞的裤子四处跑。

温莎屋学校也不是一所学费昂贵的私立学校,而是加拿大公立教育系统的一部分,不收学费。

学校成立于1971年。那一年,老校长海伦•休斯的大女儿米根八岁,不能适应正常的学校,以致于经常让自己生病。当小学老师的海伦决定让她在家上学。其他一些家长也遇到同样的问题,因此15个孩子凑在一起,成立了一所小小的学校。叫什么名字呢?每人起了一个校名,只好投票表决。表决结果,每个名字得了一票。于是决定暂名为温莎屋学校,因为这座房子坐落在北温哥华的温莎路上。名字再也没有改过,尽管学校早已不在温莎路,几十年来搬来搬去换了好些地方。成立四年后,这所小小的私校没有钱继续开下去,北温哥华校区收留了他们,从此成为公校。可是,这样不强迫孩子们学习也不介意他们穿什么来上学的学校,毕竟争议太大,总是让上级机关觉得难堪。2011年,北温哥华校区将他们扫地出门。思想更开明的海湾群岛校区接纳了他们的“关系”,但校园仍在北温。

四十二年风风雨雨,充满了乐趣也充满了挫折。向来开朗乐观的海伦说,早知道如此辛苦,当年才不会开这个学校。七十四岁的海伦已经退休,但仍然是学校积极而重要的一分子,孩子们信任和需要的人。成熟能干的米根,已经是有硕士学位的教师和两个孩子的妈妈,现任这个当年为她而开的学校的校长,一天到晚忙碌不停。在一个讲究“塑造”孩子而不是让孩子们作他们自己的文明里,这样的学校永远面临被关闭的危险。在一个靠合作而不是靠命令的小小共和国里,教育工作者永远面对层出不穷的挑战。

海伦没空出去旅游,几乎哪儿也没去过。她也不需要:在学校里没有乏味的时刻。自由的孩子们不但是最美的风景线,还是时刻刷新的风景线,不停冲击成见与极限。海伦从小家教严,连做个鬼脸都不被允许,所以有时也发现孩子们的自由很难接受。一天,孩子们穿着睡衣来上学了。上学怎么能穿睡衣呢?这是海伦的第一反应。接下来的思考是:为什么不能呢?睡衣也是好衣服,既够暖和,又足以遮身蔽体,只是在人们的传统观念上是不能穿出家来的衣服。她于是释然。另一次,她送给外孙女一盒巧克力作为节日礼物。也是温莎屋学生的小女孩马上说:“我不喜欢这种巧克力。” 海伦颇为受伤:这孩子怎么能这么直率呢,毫无礼貌。可是,应该教孩子们为了礼貌而撒谎吗?她想了很久,第二天对孩子讲了她的感受,并说明既要说真话,也要照顾别人的感情和珍惜别人的一片心意。这就是最好的反应吗?海伦不知道,但这是她想到的最好的了。对待自由的孩子,实在没有多少教科书和先例可循。从孔子到苏格拉底到康德,东西方没有几个大思想家赞成让孩子自由成长。只有像因纽特人那样完全生活在大自然中的人类社会,才从不打击约束孩子们。那是一种我们完全不熟悉的文明,经常被误认为是落后和野蛮。

书和先例也不是完全没有。温莎屋的建立不是靠凭空想象,它也不是独此一家。这样的自由学校,世界各地还有一些。最出名的有英国的夏山(Summerhill School,一所昂贵的私校),美国的桑德伯里(Sudbury Valley School)和专为穷孩子开的阿尔波尼(Albany Free School)。夏山是所有自由学校的老祖宗,1921年由苏格兰人亚历山大•苏兹兰德•尼尔(A. S. Neill)在英格兰风景优美的农业区建立,已有九十多年的历史。尼尔生在一个儿女众多的穷家庭,从小不被父母看好,经常挨揍。长大以后也不顺利。在长期的教师生涯中,尼尔认识到传统的教育方式完全行不通。创办夏山并任校长四十年后,尼尔出版了《夏山:一种培养孩子的激进方式》(Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Child Rearing)。这本书最早在美国出版。首次征订时,全美没有一家书商愿意提前预订一本。十年后,该书已列入美国至少六百门大学课程的必读书目。至1970年,已有法文、德文、意大利文、西班牙文、葡萄牙文、日文、希伯来文、芬兰文、挪威文和丹麦文的译本。初版的扉页前附有一张明信片,以收集读者的反馈。明信片返回率高达百分之二十五,超过邮购目录返回率。许多人写道:本书是“我读过的最伟大的书”,和 “对我一生最重大的影响”。也有一位妇女寄回书要求退款,原因是她丈夫说两者之一必须从家里滚出去:这本书或她自己。伟大的哲学家弗洛姆为这本书写了序言。结尾处他写道:“这本书将为爱,肯定,自由这些词提供新的涵义。我相信尼尔的著作是将会生根发芽的种子。假以时日,他的思想将为一个新的社会所广泛承认,在那个社会中,人本身,和他的解放,将成为一切社会努力的最高目标。”

海伦读过这本书后,创办了温莎屋。我读过这本书后,了解到世界上还有这种教育。这本书出版半个世纪之后,我见到了海伦,成了她的朋友。没有这本书,我们永远不会相遇。

温莎屋所有的孩子都可以照自己的天性发展,没有模式。孩子们的兴趣天差地别,毕业后从事的行业各种各样。许多决定去上大学,也有的决定他们此生决不踏进大学一步。有趣的是孩子们的选择非常清晰。这和众多大学毕业生甚至研究生乃至成年人对自己的真正志趣茫无所知的情形适成对照。

除了普通儿童外,温莎屋也收智障的孩子。没有人教过孩子们如何对待这些特殊的同学,但是孩子们向来都对他们友好而宽容,从不欺负歧视。不受压迫的孩子,想不到去压迫别人。

温莎屋也有天才的儿童。他们在别处大概早已被编入天才班,从此畸形发展。这里他们是集体中活跃的成员。学校图书馆曾一度被孩子们宣布为独立共和国,一个十二三岁的男孩当选为首席哲学家兼国家元首。这个孩子对各国历史、地理、经济、政治已有深入的研究,在科学技术方面也知识渊博, 并对哲学特别是形而上学的思考非常感兴趣。最后一次见到他时,他向大家讲解了加拿大的选举制度和改进方式,并演示了他正在发明的一种比英语更为合理的新语言。他的学习内容,显然不是任何学校和老师可以设计并强加给他的。在一个有规范课程和标准化考试的学校里,这样的孩子只能被扼杀。这里他可以自由自在地学习、思考、研究,并且经常主持会议、参与事务,在大大小小的孩子们中深受尊敬。温莎屋没有年级之分,不同年龄的孩子们都可以一起上课、开会、演出、玩耍、进行各种活动、互相帮助。

学校有一个很大的厨房,使用率非常高,经常拥挤忙碌,因为许多孩子爱吃饭也爱做饭。星期四尤其繁忙,是一周最大型的烹饪日。厨房的规矩是:如果你参加做饭,就可以吃饭;如果不做饭,但是愿意洗碗,也可以吃饭。规矩对所有人适用。我也曾被迫清洁了几个盘子,才混上一顿午饭吃。那时,一个七八岁的男孩子笑眯眯地站在旁边洗碗。

星期四中午也是每周民主例会时间。最大的房间充当会议室,通常在开始时挤得水泄不通。五六岁的小朋友经常乐呵呵地站在墙边的台子上,可能是大孩子抱上去的。但不要以为这会议的出席率还不低。听完议事日程后大多数事不关己即刻作鸟兽散,几秒钟之后就没剩下几个人:有学生、老师、家长,甚至义工。其他的有关人士要等到讨论他们自己的议案时才来一下。我旁听过几次。第一次的由一个大约十岁的美丽男孩主持。他极为熟悉议事会议遵行的罗伯特规则,成熟老练而又认真负责。虽然大多数议案获得轻易通过,但棘手的会有长时间的深入讨论,甚至白热化的争论。孩子们的自信和洞见令人吃惊,他们对他人的尊重和对人性的了解比许多成年人成熟。

有什么是温莎屋的孩子学不到的呢?几乎所有的知识和技能,从历史地理到语言数学, 从哲学思考到编程上网,都可以无需学校这样一个集体,由单独的个人通过自学和独立思考完成,孤独、没有平辈压力的环境反而有益于学习的自由和思考的深度。而那些书本教不了、老师无法传授、书斋里学不会、模拟学不像、必须在一个活生生的群体中通过平等真实的互动与亲身实践才能学会的知识和技能,孩子们能够在温莎屋学会。这些也正是现代社会最需要的知识和技能:人性的优点和弱点、互相尊重和妥协的必要、寻找双赢的解决方案、充分的沟通、清晰的表述、专注的倾听、周密的思考、理解他人的观点和立场、说服他人、表达和实现自己的愿望、争取支持、组织、管理、领导、合作、谈判、建议、创新…。 一般的学校只教授那些孩子们可以自学的科目,而不提供这样一个自我管理的环境让孩子们培养这些自学不了、成年后难以补课、却对任何个人与社会都最为重要的见地和能力。哪一种学校才是真正耽误了孩子呢?

回来参加座谈会的温莎屋毕业生说,他们在这里找到了真正的自我,发现了自己真正的兴趣,结下了终生的友谊。当海伦问他们是否对自己在目前生活中的位置满意时,每个人都毫不犹豫地给予了肯定的答复。他们也都提到自己找到自我和真正兴趣之前漫长的看似无所作为甚至无所事事的时光。一位家长问他们如何能缩短这段令家长们焦虑的时光。每个人都说,不能缩短,这段时光对他们的一生起了决定性的作用,正是因为没有人为的干涉和催促,他们的成长得以在其中瓜熟蒂落,水到渠成。毕业生们都提到一个顿悟的时刻。但没有人预先知道这样的时刻何时来临。每个人都同意,顺其自然应该是最好的方式。

有教育家打过一个比喻:一个鸡蛋, 从外面打开,它是食物;从里面打开,它是生命。有多少孩子,是从外面被打开了呢?

徐志摩说:“一般父母心目中的‘好孩子’观念是:愈不像孩子的孩子是愈好的孩子。”他又说:“现代的成人为什么都是这么懒、这么脏(尤其在品格与思想上)、这么蠢、这么丑、这么破烂?现代的青年为什么这么弱、这么多愁多悲哀?这种种的不健康多是做爹娘的当初不曾尽他们应尽的责任,一半是愚暗,一半是懒怠。”

纪伯伦借“先知”之口说:

你们的孩子,都不是你们的孩子,

乃是生命为自己所渴望的儿女。

他们是借你们而来,却不是从你们而来,

他们虽和你们同在,却不属于你们。

你们可以给他们爱,却不可以给他们思想,

因为他们有自己的思想。

你们可以荫庇他们的身体,却不能荫庇他们的灵魂,

因为他们的灵魂,是住在明日的宅中,那是你们在梦中也不能想见的。

你们可以努力去模仿他们,却不能使他们来像你们,

因为生命是不倒行的,也不与昨日一同停留。

你们是弓,你们的孩子是从弦上发出的生命的箭矢。

那射者在无穷之中看定了目标,也用神力将你们引满,使他的箭矢迅疾而遥远地射了出去。

让你们在射者手中的弯曲成为喜乐吧,

因为他爱那飞出的箭,也爱了那静止的弓。

(– 卡里尔•纪伯伦,《先知》,冰心译)

Shi Tiesheng

Posted May 17th, 2012 and filed in Human Condition, Human Mind, Life, People
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Shi Tiesheng, a Chinese writer, says: “To write is to prevent suicide.”

He died on the last day of the year 2010, four days before his 60th birthday. Having spent 38 years in a wheelchair, making matchboxes with other unskilled workers for a living for over a decade, he knew what he was talking about. Shi is one of the most profound and unpretentious writers inChina.

He had not expected to live to almost 60. His illness had brought him to the verge of death more than once. Daily living was difficult. He had to rely on medical help to clean his blood every two days, after his kidneys failed. Energy was of limited supply. If a friend was to visit in the afternoon, he dared not move much the whole morning, in order to save energy for the visit. It was a thoroughly tortured life, a life without health and all the pleasures health bestows. How could you buy the pleasure of taking a walk? He found he could not even recall the sensation of walking. The memory was gone soon after the departure of the function.

It was not a life lived by common standards. There was no feeling well or looking well. Yet he lived. And he wrote.

He lived and died in abundant, genuine love, love from his wife, his friends, his doctors and nurses — some of these health workers were his lifelong caretakers and lifesavers. Instead of a funeral, his friends gathered and celebrated his 60th birthday, in their brightest and handsomest clothing. They brought him colorful fresh flowers. “This time,” said his wife to these friends, “he has plenty of energy for the party.”

In his work, Shi says, “Death is something we don’t need to rush to. Death is a festival that is bound to come.” It had finally come.

He donated every part of his body to anyone in need of a transplant and to medical research. He hoped an autopsy would finally discover what went wrong in his spine at age 21. At that time, everyone was praying it was a tumor, which would mean it could be removed and he cured. Yet whoever he prayed to with all his might did not grant him this favor.

People say his profession is writing. He corrected that view. “My profession is being sick. I write in my spare time.”

A hot-tempered youth who yelled at his doctor and threatened to chop the doctor up alive if he could not be made to walk again, he came to a profound peace with a fate that seemed most unjust. If such a life is the price to pay for a mature soul, he made the price worthwhile. His writing is free of pretense, of shallowness. The clear, simple, earthbound words awaken deep sorrow and love in his readers. It is the soul behind the words that his readers feel.

A translation of his famous prose work Wo Yu Ditan is here. The Chinese original is here.

Clarity and substance

Posted October 4th, 2010 and filed in Human Mind, Life

Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone could clear up their own thoughts first before they debate with others, if everyone could understand or even try to understand what the other is saying before disagreeing? Much antagonism and even war could be avoided if this were the case. Meetings would be a lot shorter, relationships a lot easier. But the majority of people are ready to take a stand on any issue before they have a chance to think about it and collect the facts. Shallow, unclear, and heated discussion based on shared ignorance is characteristic of most conversations. Often a dialogue is nothing but two monologues intertwined, propelled forward by a lot of positive or negative misunderstanding, sometimes echoed but never heard.

It helps to have an ordinary intelligence if accompanied by audacious honesty. Such a mind will keep asking for clarity until it gets it. Not being afraid of looking stupid forces the other party to be clear and straightforward. Such a person will not buy superfluous arguments and muddled reasoning, and thus  drives them out of existence.

Average academics write in big words, dry style, and cumbersome structure. Outstanding intellectuals write in simple words, vivid style, and clear structure. The empty brain spends all its effort on the façade, while the substantial mind only seeks to get the message across. The small intuitively try to intimidate, while the great just let themselves be seen.

Depth, substance, magnificence do not lend themselves to those looking for quick success. People learn to cheat because it works in the world of humans. A lot of things work in the human-developed world: vulgarity, cruelty, hypocrisy, self-deception, flattery, corruption, evil, stupidity, incompetence. None of these works in truth-seeking.

The natural laws cannot be cheated. There is no shortcut. On this scale I too am constantly being measured, and each time inevitably find myself worth exactly the work I have done, no more, no less.

My classroom

Posted September 14th, 2010 and filed in Education, Life

My classroom is out there, by the lagoon. There is always so much to learn. When I look at the incomprehensible beauty of the scenery, I try to understand, not only with my intellect, but with my whole being. The blue mountains with snow caps, the sky with soft feathery clouds, the forests, the gardens, the lake, the fountain, the swans, seagulls, mallards, geese, pigeons, raccoons, and squirrels all seem to be teaching me something, so very beautiful, lively and grand, more than anything I have learned from books, from society.

“Practical” way of life

Posted September 14th, 2010 and filed in Human Condition, Life

The masses take pride in being practical and scorn imagination. They have no idea that their whole lives have been shaped by imagination, and they fall for it all the time. The imagination of Homer alone created the foundation of Western culture. The tale of Creation still reins the crowd. They believe in a future state. They go to churches to worship. They spend money on festivals, games, rituals, fluffy movies, and escapist fiction. Yet they mock “imagination”. They mock their innermost longing.

The masses drink coffee to stay stimulated, take drugs to be ecstatic or free from anxiety and depression, but refuse to do any serious work to improve their minds. Shortcuts are always preferred. The outer quality of life always outweighs the inner quality of life. You can boast about a trip to the tropics, and get plenty of oohs and aahs, but your friends won’t envy you if you have just read a thought-provoking book. That’s simply not cool, man. You’ve got to go out more. Travel rocks.

Our primitive stage

Posted September 14th, 2010 and filed in Education, Employment, Human Condition, Life

I want to find out what screwed up the lovely and lively children the majority of adults once were. What in society, in education, in employment replaced their beauty with ugliness, depleted their spirit, made them mean and coarse? If we can find these things, can we change them? Can each person develop from a lovely and lively baby to a lovely and lively adult? Why not? Is society anti-human by nature? Does growing up have to be the death of the spirit? Why?

We are really still in a primitive stage, despite all our technologies and sciences. Despite the complexity of all the derivatives, we are basically still animals living a life of feeding and breeding. Everything else is just decoration.

The human side of us is still far from developed. Most people do not live a life of the mind. Most people cannot appreciate the finest poetry and music. Most people work for pay, not passion. Their jobs often bring neither satisfaction nor growth. Many of them blind their conscience to be able to do their job. Many people do not have the urge to live life in an honorable way. Look at all the spammers, and even worse, scammers.

A prophecy on the demise of teaching

Posted September 12th, 2010 and filed in Books, Education

About 60 years ago, Carl Rogers, one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century, gave a presentation at a conference organized by Harvard University. The conference members were experienced, sophisticated teachers. He had been invited to give a talk on “Classroom Approaches to Influencing Human Behavior.”

Although he was allotted two hours, his presentation was short. It was simply a few points that expressed some of his deepest views on education. Inspired by Kierkegaard, whose honesty he had always admired, he wrote his points out as honestly as he could and presented them in his usual modest way. Then he opened the floor for discussion.

What happened afterwards was not what he had expected. He was besieged by a storm of emotions, with attacks coming from every quarter. His educator colleagues demanded he confirm that he did not mean what he said. Occasionally, there was a voice of agreement from a teacher who had not dared to utter such thoughts.

Many participants lost sleep that night. Although Rogers made no attempt to have his statement published, it was widely duplicated by members of the conference. A few years later, two journals obtained his permission to publish it.

So what was all the furor about? What did he say?

The main points are:

  1. Nothing significant can be taught.
  2. The only learning which significantly influences behavior is self-discovered, self-appropriated learning.
  3. Such self-discovered learning cannot be directly communicated to another.
  4. When teaching does happen, the results are detrimental. It seems to cause the individual to distrust his own experience, and to stifle significant learning.

Rogers affirmed that many consequences can be implied from these points. For instance, we would do away with

a) Teaching. People would get together if they wished to learn.

b) Examinations. They measure only the inconsequential type of learning.

c) Grades and credits.

d) Degrees as a measure of competence.

e) The exposition of conclusions, for we would realize that no one learns significantly from conclusions.

The complete list of points can be found in Personal Thoughts on Teaching and Learning (1952) , included in his book, On Becoming a Person (1961), which is very valuable reading.

This book also includes an illustrative example of his oddly effective “teaching” as experienced by a participant: Carl R. Rogers and Non-Directive Teaching, by Samuel Tenenbaum, Ph.D. The four-week course described by Tenenbaum took place in the summer of 1958 at Brandeis University. The students were a diverse group of teachers, doctoral candidates in psychology, counselors, psychologists, priests (one from a foreign country). Whoever wishes to “teach” effectively and whoever wishes to take control of his/her own learning should read Tenenbaum’s record. It is eye-opening that real learning can be accomplished in such an awkward way, while the teacher refuses to take on his traditional role and is willing to take blows.

Applicational reading (and when not to read)

Posted August 16th, 2010 and filed in Books, Education, Human Mind

If one cannot think well, then one cannot read well. This explains why so many well-read people get no wisdom out of their reading. The quantity of books read and the number of degrees attained do not count. It is better to read fewer books well. It is better to be less educated but equipped with a few well-digested fundamental truths verified by experience. A grasp of the natural laws is much more important than “the wordy ignorance that is often called knowledge” (George Eliot: Middlemarch, Lydgate’s moment of vocation), much more important than cunning and so-called worldly wisdom.

Preferably, thinking should precede reading. Only when the questions have been generated and have been boiling in the mind can learning happen. For a person whose brain has never exercised the thinking process on real problems encountered, whose heart cares about nothing and nobody, books can add no value. If a book does not address your own set of puzzles and dilemmas, pains and longings, I say drop it. You can always come back to it when you have thought about the questions it addresses. Then it will speak to you, if it is a great book. You can critique it, absorb the nutrition you need, and obtain the vocabulary to express your thoughts.

I often think about how wise it was of Hermann Hesse to call the contemporary academic enterprise “the Glass Bead Game,” one that is intellectually satisfying  but has nothing to do with the creative force. Such endeavor centers on the interpretation, study, research, and the manipulation of the intricate structure of its subjects, yet exists only in the ashes of past great creation. The vigor is wasted on argument instead of advancement, on trivial details instead of significance.

Mortimer Adler, in his bestseller How to Read a Book, proposes four levels of reading: elementary, inspectional, analytical, and the highest: syntopical. I’d like to propose yet another, even higher level: applicational reading. By this I mean that you apply what you are reading to at least one troubling case currently in your life. Thus, you follow the author through his discourse, all the while critically relating the content to your situation, smiling or frowning, nodding or shaking your head, hesitating, questioning, conversing, and debating. If you cannot do this, you should put aside this book, at least for now. Or, if it belongs to the Great Books list, give it a quick once-over at best.

When there is nothing that appeals to a person below the head, no change will happen. In this case, do not read; instead, live. Go out into the world, experience nature and people. Your real university lies there. This is what Gorky calls his university in his autobiography. All learning should be visceral. I disagree with the academics. I disagree with the dispassionate and indifferent.

An immune system

Posted May 20th, 2010 and filed in Life

Acceptance, approval, and admiration are dangerous. Like punishment, reward is a part of our conditioning. It is called positive reinforcement. If you do not get any of it, life is miserable. However, if you get it, you can become attached to it to the point of addiction. This addiction induces fear, because once you have something, you fear its loss. Thus, the admirer controls the admired with admiration. The approving boss controls the subordinate with praise. Friends control you with their good opinion of you. Community controls you with its acceptance. Any slight change on their part, or threat of change, will disturb you consciously or subconsciously. Any loss of these conditions will grieve you dearly. We can be enslaved by love without our knowing. We can become dependent on another’s dependence on us.

We need an immune system here, just as we need some inner immunity to brave the storm of rejection, criticism, even condemnation, and, quite often, the Dead Sea of indifference. It is bad if we succumb to life’s beating. It is equally bad if we succumb to life’s bribery. Regardless of beating or bribery, we must dare to be ourselves; we must dare to do what we are meant to do.

An inner core has to be built; otherwise we are subject to corruption. Our daily reality is overwhelming, and our needs are urgent. The interaction is constant. The pressure is always on.

We are social animals, but we are also meant to grow on our own, quietly, in our own lot. Solitude must precede true society, as Emerson said. A complete self is the precondition for any mature relationship on equal terms between adults.

To build that core, that complete self, is no easy task. Much tribulation and conflict has to be endured before we can attain a solid ethical consciousness. Those innocents who have not fought adversities and resisted temptations are not to be trusted. Those who did not choose their inner calling over external pressure are corrupted. The redemption is harder, as now the core is weaker. They easily slip down the slippery slope from there. Only those who have made the courageous choice can take the next, possibly more severe, or more subtle and better disguised, test. In due time, through many trials, the core of a self is built. The danger of falling for even such a self will always exist. It is an uphill struggle. It is worthwhile, but not easy.

Despite our need for social interaction, our longing to be of great service to society, we must not compromise ourselves too much. Since anything outstanding will likely be misunderstood and beaten down, years of isolation may be necessary before we gain mastery.

Therefore, one seeking an authentic, empowered self has no choice but to learn to live with oneself comfortably. Emotionally, we should be as little externally reliant as possible. We need to reacquaint ourselves with nature, with quiet, with great books and classical music, with productive loneliness. Solitariness is necessary for our wounds to heal, our inner turmoil to settle, our thoughts to grow, our boundaries to expand.

No doubt we should reach out to connect with people from all geographic areas, all walks of life, all ages, all colors, all cultures, and all creeds. However, we should not fill our lives with chatter. Our well-done work should be the currency of exchange in any meaningful interaction. It should be the only permit to enter into the circle of great contributors where you belong. True friendship is based on mutual admiration for each other’s character. The proof of our character is our work. The work done verifies not just the talent, but more importantly, the determination, the endurance, and the conquering of many difficulties and temptations.

Most important measurement of a life’s work

Posted November 30th, 2009 and filed in Arts, Life

Regardless of outcome, the most important measurement of a life’s work is how little you have compromised, how much in you has been brought forth whole and entire, in the original form you have envisioned deep in your heart. This is the secret of great art, great achievement: the refusal to compromise, the stamina to see to the last detail cast in the mold of the mind’s highest dream. This is Stanley Kubric, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet. This is Confucius, Jesus, Sakyamuni, Socrates. The courage to stand by one’s conviction in an otherwise humble spirit is always the sign of greatness and mental maturity.