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)

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.

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.

On Liberty

Posted April 11th, 2009 and filed in Education, Human Condition, Human Mind

The most pressing danger, for this human race and for each individual, is the lack of ability to understand, respect, pursue, and defend liberty.

On the individual level, this deficiency leads to voluntary dehumanization of oneself, to a life that is either mechanical or animalistic, to surrender of freedom and growth, to oppression on others in domestic or public life, to willing or acquiescent cooperation with crimes committed to fellow human beings.

The crimes an individual participates in can be completely lawful, such as killing civilians of another country, manufacturing a drug that research has proven to have detrimental side effects, producing food with legal but harmful ingredients to lower cost and improve flavor, or issuing financial statements in compliance with the letter of accounting standards but meant to deceive the public. These crimes are common practice today, performed by large groups of highly educated and qualified professionals.

Judging from such reality, schools have failed us on humanity, certifying professional bodies have failed us on ethics, laws have failed us on justice. The only protection we have is the few persons who refuse to participate in crime, who choose to act on their understanding of human rights. These are the protectors of liberty, for whom the punishment is severe, without whom mankind would be extinct.

On the largest scale, this deficiency has led to nearly all catastrophes to the human race, including but not limited to genocide, world wars, concentration camps, man-made famine, and epidemics. In each of these incidents, there have been either none or not enough qualified soldiers to defend mankind.

It is owing to those who understood liberty and fought for it that each of us lives to see the sunlight of this day and enjoys the rights we take for granted.

The future, whether it will be an era of hope and freedom or a new age of darkness, depends on the current and future soldiers of liberty.

For humanity as a whole, the problem is: how can we have enough soldiers of liberty to prevent future catastrophes? Unless the majority of the population has been orientated with the fundamentals of liberty, a livable future cannot be guaranteed. Relying on an enlightened few to defend mankind has proven to be risky business. Adolf Hitler knew this. He said: “The great masses of the people in the very bottom of their hearts tend to be corrupted rather than consciously and purposely evil…therefore, in view of the primitive simplicity of their minds, they more easily fall a victim to a big lie than to a little one…” The masses must be enlightened and truly educated in the human sense. The majority must become qualified fighters for liberty. Otherwise, we are not safe.

On the individual level, the question is: how can we enlighten ourselves, so we live our lives free from unjust limitations, aware of and resistant to mental manipulation, propaganda, brainwashing, and indoctrination that surround us every day and everywhere?

Autocratic or democratic, a system—be it a mechanism, hierarchy, organization, war machine, or society—tends to dehumanize, explicitly or implicitly, to different extents. It runs more smoothly on standardized, obedient parts, not on unique individuals with thoughts and edges. But more smoothly to what end?

If we agree that the ultimate end of every honorable human endeavor is the prosperity and freedom for all, then to achieve liberty by any means of depriving liberty cannot be justified as logical. However, the fallacy prevails.

A system dislikes a component that questions the purpose of the establishment. There are vested interests in any system, hence the inertia is strong and personalized. Therefore, such unwelcome components must be punished and silenced, if they cannot be made identical with the “good ones”.

Since punishment and censorship are only after the fact, it is considered much better to preclude the making of troublesome free-thinkers. As proactive methods, mass media and schools are charged with the task of making standardized and obedient citizens. School accomplishes this task by rote learning, by standardized tests, mass media by endless dumb entertainments, by constant feeds of sensational news, by luring insatiable consumers with exaggerated advertising. The underlying, inherent message is: Don’t think.

Culture helps by providing conventional opinions. Religion assists by diverting attention to a future state. Employment implements control by offering or denying livelihood. Government presents patriotism. Community imposes peer pressure.

From birth to death, rewards and punishments—mental, emotional, physical, but mostly material—mold our psyche, induce fear, determine behavior, condition the mind, shrink the soul. As long as you live, you are boxed; a number represents you to the system.

As result, a small life is satisfactory, inhuman conditions are acceptable. Society runs smoothly, fulfilling nothing but the basic mission: reproduction. The advance is only in technology, not in real evolution. In fact, it is quite the opposite: the degeneration in mind and body is alarming.

You have to be very attentive to personal conscience and capable of independent thinking to be able to see through the lies and bullying we receive every day, from TV and radio, from school, from peers, from managers, from government. The Collective means to assimilate you, make you not a human, but a tool. Is resistance futile?

We think not. The time has become too dangerous for pessimism. It is your life as a human that is at stake. Moreover, it is the future of human beings that depends on you.

There is no cause nobler than this, and no need more urgent.

Therefore we are calling on you, freedom lovers, come here, get the training, face life with an equipped mind, defend liberty on small and large scales wherever you are, enlighten the stupefied, encourage the frightened, promote independent thinking, fight for a future in which life is safe, dignity is respected, and individuality can flourish.

Words

Posted January 31st, 2009 and filed in Books, Education, Human Mind

Real learning happens on the subconscious level, causing real changes. This is the paradox: we must verbalize to communicate knowledge, yet real thinking happens in a non-verbal way.

We invented languages, written and spoken, to convey messages, to preserve knowledge. The mastery of a language is considered a valuable skill, and indeed is. A newly learnt language opens up a new world.

Language conveys yet distorts the message. During the transmission, the real power of the original message is lost. For example, at first, the founder of a religion lives his belief with the entirety of his life, the words spoken are from the bottom of his heart. From him to his disciples, the message loses some of its original living power, personality, passion, and depth. Afterwards, the next generation of followers does not even have the luxury of exposure to the master’s silent direct influence, to correct any misinterpretation. On and on the doctrine is diluted and distorted. By the time a belief is institutionalized, doctrine has become dogma, spark has left the ashes. 

However we have not found a better way of communicating, and must try again with the only tool we have, again and again, in any creative way we can imagine, in all literatures, in all conferences, in all presentations, in all documents.

Yes, we have also sounds and colors and shapes and touch and movements; therefore we invented music, painting, sculpture, dance, etc. But the majority of human messages are still carried by words.

There are very diluted messages, or pure junk. There are also forms of condensed wisdom. Great books are the latter. Though our interpretation is different from one another, or even from each read, some valuable messages get across. We are therefore nourished and grow in the rich soil cultivated by generations of our ancestors, not the barren environment called daily life we are thrown into. Whether to take this inheritance or not is up to us. There is no obligation.

Elements of good life

Posted December 4th, 2008 and filed in Education, Employment, Human Condition, Human Mind, Life

To be able to live a good life in the full human sense, one’s given default setting is not enough. If it were, education and thought and action would not be necessary. Going with the flow is not an option. To be able to exercise consciousness and rationality and choice, there must be a reflective element in one’s life. A life that does not allow time and energy to think will be a life of ignorance and passive reaction. The command “slow down” has the beginning of wisdom in it. Too bad most lives do not have this element. People do not reflect, therefore they never learn the lessons hidden in life’s pains and frustrations.

One must reflect or remain at the psychical state of a 3-year-old, which is common in adults and even elders. They never mature or blossom in the true human sense. Their beauty is external, if it ever exists, given by nature and gone with youth. They contribute nothing to the human heritage other than their reproduction, which they usually fulfill instinctively and irresponsibly. 

The default life is not a good one. We live in a society defective in many ways. Without wakeful individuals, it will not be able to correct itself. Unthinking herds contribute to its evil. If one cannot command him/herself, he or she will have to obey society, which makes one a part of a machine, inconsequential, unimportant, not a human being that is unique and full of its own spirit.

An unexamined life is not worth living. But an examined life may still be unworthy of living. There must also be a creative element, a learning element (which I would like to think is supplemental and subservient to the creative element and without exception comes with it), and a meaningful element, through which an individual’s learning and creative action extend to others, and connect to the whole universe.

These, I think, are the conditions of having a good life. Reflection must come first and life must be examined, once the individual has gained independence from his family of origin in both mentality and financial means. This reflection must also be done continuously, as life more often than not poses unexpected and unwanted lessons to us. Paying attention is the key. Pretending to be dumb will make one truly dumb.

On Pleasure

Posted August 2nd, 2008 and filed in Education, Human Condition, Life

My first encounter with Western culture struck me with its central theme of “fun”. The frequency with which this word is used in common language amazes me. Fun loving and fun seeking seem to comprise the core of this culture’s mentality. Fun is the center, the purpose, the praised achievement, the pride. “It is so much fun” is the highest compliment to the merit of anything. “He/she is so funny” is the highest compliment to a personality. Every effort should be for fun. Everything you do should be fun. Work is frowned upon among adults and early retirement is most people’s dream, much like learning is frowned upon among the young and indulgence is encouraged by their peers.

Fun is more the emphasis of Canadian characteristics than of other western nations. I remember my first public speaking course. When everyone was asked to pick a topic they were passionate about and give a talk on it, the three Canadians by birth each picked a hobby of their own such as kayaking, while I talked about the education of Summerhill, and a black student talked about the darkness of his Africa.

Canadians are concerned with how much pleasure they can derive from this limited life span. Their dreamy expressions when talking about traveling, camping, skating, rollerblading, skiing, hockey, snow-shoeing, birdwatching, whale-watching, sailing, surfing, rock-climbing, vacations, road trips, a show, a sports game, or an entertaining novel or movie confirm to me a hundred times a day what is considered the highest value in this culture: life enjoyment and personal entertainment. Anything deeper and heavier is not their favorite topic. Their planning revolves around evenings, vacations, retirement. For them, real life lies in fun activities; everything else is the price to pay for these fun activities and considered a necessary evil, such as work and chores. For all the drudgeries they endure at work and in life, they demand immediate pleasures for compensation. When they get such pleasures through whatever ways humans have invented, they consider themselves satisfied.

This inability to look beyond, or rather, the ability to not look beyond, never ceases to amaze me. Even if they don’t read history, they must know what is happening in other parts of the world. And even in Canada there is still much social injustice and absurdity.

The elevators in my apartment building have a monitor in each of them, showing commercials, movie trailers, daily tips, and trivial facts. A repeated tip for cleaning a dog’s tear stain almost drove me crazy. When there are people suffering from starvation or slaughter somewhere else on this tiny planet, it seems to me almost a crime to be concerned with your dog’s tear stain.

The unthinking crowd comprises the masses. They are the back and the bottom of this world: brainless, mindless, indifferent, driven by lower desires. You may try to yell, to kick, but they have not the ear to listen, and the skin is as thick as an elephant’s. You shall despair, if you want to make a difference in this soulless village.

Both media and education are dumbed down for the masses, to get market share. This continual dumbing down results in an even dumber next generation. The vicious circle goes on.

Canada’s short and peaceful history may be the root of this indifferent and self-content attitude. Lack of suffering makes a person and even a nation shallow and unsympathetic. Secondly, the rich natural resources and sparse population may be the reason for the light-heartedness. And finally, the poor and dependent economy contributes to the absence of ambition.

What I see is a nation willingly surrendering itself to mindless pleasures and nothing beyond. It is a nation that cannot produce a leader who can safely direct it to a future of choice. It surrenders its destiny to fate, to any unexpected turn of history. Such a nation consists of individuals who do not look beyond their life span and their immediate environment. Pleasure is both the means and the ends. Don’t talk about anything beyond, or they will hate you and call you preachy. It is a popular understanding that most people prefer to talk about anything but the meaning of life.

There is some merit in this culture. Over the years I have been partially assimilated into it. I have learned to appreciate its good cheer, its love of living. I have adopted its life-enjoying attitude. It is an antidote to the fun-denying, life-denying culture I came from. It is here, in this beautiful landscape, among these friendly people, that for the first time my life has become enjoyable.

However, the deepest part of me will never be assimilated. To divert me from a purposeful life is nearly impossible. After much suffering, I appreciate more yet value less the pleasures in life. They are not the essentials.

Fight the default setting

Posted December 10th, 2007 and filed in Education, Human Condition, Life

Those who never get to know the pleasure of intellectual growth are pitiful. Unfortunately, they are the majority. Most people live a stupefied, stagnant life. Their growth stops at an early age. The rest of their life is left to life’s abuse and authority’s manipulation.

Most people are not blessed with good experience and good company. Who knows what you will be born into? If you are born into a ghetto, then without any conscious self-directed effort by yourself, you will become part of the ghetto. If life treats you harshly and meanly, you will likely be harsh and mean to other people, not only because you are conditioned by hatred, but also because this is the only way you know. The best blessings of life, I think, are positive experiences and good people. Fair competition, recognition of merit and of good work, dedication and enthusiasm, care, vision, nobility, stamina, courage, sacrifice, gratitude, integrity, forgiveness, kindness, gentleness, generosity, honesty, friendship based on mutual admiration for each other’s character … these are the best things you can witness and experience in this life. These are the fertile soil for the blossoming of your soul. There are heaven and hell on this earth. You know which one you are in. Heaven or hell, it is the people around you. So too are you other people’s fateful environment. When you are aware of this fact, I urge you: make a conscious effort, and make a paradise of where you are. Show some devotion, bring out the good in you despite sarcasm, dare to be different, think of yourself as the rock others depend on, lead and serve, care, appreciate, encourage, act, make a difference. The rewards are endless. There is no greater joy than bringing hope and inspiration to the darkness in which you and others are imprisoned.

No matter how bad your environment is, you can rise above it. Heroes are born in all kinds of places. They are made heroes by their own conscious effort. There is no natural hero-making environment on this planet. Society is designed to produce mediocrity, if not failure.