근자열 원자래

“공자는 인이란 ‘근자열 원자래’라고 합니다. 가까이 있는 사람이 기뻐하고 멀리 있는 사람이 찾아오는 것이 인이라고 했습니다” (p92, “담론” 신영복저).

어질다는 의미를 이렇게 간략하게, 마음에 와닿게 정의하다니. 신영복 선생님의 책 “담론”을 읽다가 내 눈이 위 문장의 끝에 머무는 순간, 그 감동은 입안에 들어온 사탕의 민트향이 몸에 사아~ 퍼지고 내 몸 밖으로 잔잔하게 번지는 그런 느낌이랄까?

“인(仁)”이라는 내면의 향기라는게 이런것인가보다. 강하지 않고 은은해서 곁에 더 있고 싶게 만들고, 강하지는 않아도 오래 남아 다시 찾아오게 하는. 처음엔 민트향처럼 느껴진 그 감동에 갑자기 무게가 실려 나를 짓누른다. 아… 너무나도 어려운, 도달하기 어려운 것이 인(仁)이구나.

좀 가벼워 지자 하는 마음에 목표를 수정해 본다. 근자열 원자래를 실천하지는 못해도, 이 은은한 향을 띈 사람을 알아보는 사람이 되자. 멀리 있는 사람을 찾아오게 하지는 못해도 내가 마음 준, 하지만 지금은 멀리 있는 이를 찾아가는 사람이 되자. 가까이 있는 이들이 맘 편하게 내 곁에서 쉴 수 있게 하지는 못해도, 타인이 보낸 배려에 밝게 웃으며 고마운 마음을 꼭 표현하는 사람이 되자.

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I’m learning in my class too!

teacher-407360_1920When people talk about the effects of active learning, it’s all about students; students are motivated to learn, their ownership increases, they retain knowledge longer, etc. One thing I noticed is that in the active learning classroom, instructors also learn and intellectually grow just as students do.

When the instructor steps aside a little bit to leave a room for students so that they could follow their interests and synthesize information on their own, the instructor acquires new information relevant to the course subject from students’ work. Moreover, while observing how students develop their interest and improve information fluency, the instructor could reassess his/her teaching philosophy and grows as an educator.

After all, active learning is happening to EVERYONE in the classroom. 

Intersection between what you know and who you are

Sanger’s point rang true to me in part because I almost never speak about my own abortion, which I had when I was an eighteen-year-old freshman at U.C.Berkley. This was strange, it occurred to me as I read Sanger’s book, because the decision was as consequential as any I’d made as a young person’ it had allowed me to claim the future I imagined for myself. But, in another way, it wasn’t so strange, because I had never regretted having an abortion, so it was not a choice I felt compelled to revisit… I never did feel that I’d killed a baby; I felt that I’d ended a pregnancy. What I remember most of all was the relief when it was over, and the kindness of the doctor and the nurses at the health center, who treated me like a person with a reasonable sense of her own mind. So why don’t I ever talk about it? … in part, it’s true, because abortion has a stigma–a stigma I don’t believe should exist but am not entirely immune to, an aura of selfishness or callousness. (Obstacle Course by Margaret Talbot in The New Yorker (April 3rd, 2017))

Margaret Talbot’s piece was just another monthly book review in The New Yorker until the paragraph above appeared. She reviewed a recent book on abortion and then toward the end of her piece, she unveiled the story of her own abortion. Her candor and willingness to stand up for and share her decision astonished me. It goes without saying that her honest personal account made her review more vital and relatable. Ms. Talbot’s article reminded me of an interview of Krista Tippett in the podcast “On Being”. When the interviewer asked Ms. Tippett about including her separation from her father in her book Becoming Wise, she said,

 … the book, it just — it didn’t come alive for a long time, and I realized, actually, I also had to do what I ask other people to do, which I know makes ideas come to life, and also makes them listenable, makes them land in the imaginations of listener with vitality, which is to really walk that line, that intersection between what you know, and who you are. And, yeah, then I had to actually — I had to be honest, even just with myself, about the hard, the sad parts of my life, and those things that I wrestle with. (https://onbeing.org/programs/krista-tippett-the-mystery-and-art-of-living/)

Perhaps, what makes someone a true intellectual who desires to bring about changes in others and communities is strength and courage that allows him/her to be able to share own struggles and vulnerability pertaining to his/her ideas. Because changes occur when the heart is touched and only a shaky but firm voice coming from the heart can touch another heart.

The coevolution of knowledge and schools?

In medieval Europe, the chief formula for knowledge was: Knowledge = Scriptures x Logic. If people wanted to know the answer to an important question, they would read scriptures and use their logic to understand the exact meaning of the text… The Scientific Revolution proposed a very different formula for knowledge: Knowledge = Empirical Data x Mathematics. If we want to know the answer to some question, we need to gather relevant empirical data, and then use mathematical tools to analyze them… As humans gained confidence in themselves, a new formula for acquiring ethical knowledge appeared: Knowledge = Experiences x Sensitivity. If we wish to know the answer to any ethical question, we need to connect to our inner experiences and observe them with the utmost sensitivity… What exactly are ‘experiences’? They are not empirical data… an experience is a subjective phenomenon made up of three main ingredients: sensations, emotions and thoughts… And what is ‘sensitivity’? It means two things. Firstly, paying attention to my sensations, emotions and thoughts. Secondly, allowing these sensations emotions, and thoughts to influence me (p239 in Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Harari).

In other words, the meaning of knowledge has evolved from what we were told to do to what we could test to what we experience and internalize.

The trajectory of this evolution is quite interesting. The realm of knowledge has moved from something concrete and tangible to abstract and intangible. The focus of knowledge was external objects (e.g., God or nature), but now it’s about what’s in me.

Then, what does this new formula for knowledge mean to us, educators? What types of experiences do we want our students to have in order to become competent, responsible and mindful adults? How can we create the environment that can cultivate the capacity for sensations, emotions and thoughts? How could we even assess students’ performances when the knowledge they acquire is about themselves?

Dr. Harari’s insightful perspective on knowledge encouraged me to imagine how the college would (or should) be changed. What would the college look like when its goal is to help students gain knowledge composed of experiences and sensitivity? Three pillars of the new school curriculum would be open-mindedness, self-consciousness and expressive mind. Experiences are qualitative. A single simple phenomenon could elicit a multitude of emotions and thoughts if the individual sees it from different perspectives. Internalization of an experience requires being mindful of oneself and expressing his/her emotions and thoughts in various forms–words, drawing, music, physical movement, etc. Namely, the new formula for knowledge would redefine the school as a safe place where students gain experiences without worrying about failure, pay attention to opposing or foreign ideas without any prejudice, get to know themselves without any pressure to fit themselves into the existing frames, and create and strengthen own channels of expression.

Testimony to liberal arts education

book_sale_loot_4552277923I am a beneficiary of liberal arts education and an ardent fan and advocate of it. However, it’s hard to describe the value of liberal arts education. Then, I encountered the following statements from poet Mary Oliver.

“I quickly found for myself two such blessings—the natural world, and the world of writing: literature. These were the gates through which I vanished from a difficult place.

In the first of these—the natural world—I felt at ease; nature was full of beauty and interest and mystery, also good and bad luck, but never misuse. The second world—the world of literature—offered me, besides the pleasures of form, the sustentation of empathy (the first step of what Keats called negative capability) and I ran for it. I relaxed in it. I stood willingly and gladly in the characters of everything—other people, trees, clouds. And this is what I learned: that the world’s otherness is antidote to confusion, that standing within this otherness—the beauty and the mystery of the world, out in the fields or deep inside books—can re-dignify the worst-stung heart” (p15. Mary Oliver’s Upstream).

Vanishing from one’s humdrum routine and connecting with or being someone else. It’s something that a billion dollar job cannot do, but a worn-out book can do. Or a piece of music could do it too.

Welcoming an ever-increasing emphasis on STEM education, I also hope that it does not expel literature and music education from curriculum. Although they appear amorphous and resist any metrics for measuring their values, literature and music education add layers and dimensions to our inner world. They enrich and expand our multi-dimensional life. No wonder why there is no space in our one-dimensional resume for the experience we got from literature and music. Because it cannot.

Here’s another statement that caught my ear resonating the same theme:

“Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said ‘Listening to great music is a shattering experience, throwing the soul into an encounter with an aspect of reality to which the mind can never relate itself adequately. Such experiences undermine conceit and complacency and may even induce a sense of contrition and a readiness for repentance. I am neither a musician nor an expert on music. But the shattering experience of music has been a challenge to my thinking on ultimate issues. I spend my life working with thoughts. And one problem that gives me no rest is: do these thoughts ever rise to the heights reached by authentic music?‘” (From https://www.onbeing.org/programs/alice-parker-singing-companionable-arts/)

Photo by Ginny / CC BY-SA 2.0

An unwelcome guest I invited

Every time I finish my lecture, there is always this lingering feeling that I didn’t do a good job. I was repetitive, I rambled a lot, my sentences didn’t make sense, I didn’t answer students’ questions right, I was too quick, I didn’t look at the audience often, etc.

It was me who went into the lecture room. In an hour, trudging out of it is someone I don’t like, a loser who is beaten by what she wants be, where she wants to be.

Some aspects of teaching are in fact incompatible with my nature. I don’t enjoy public speaking; I like one-on-one meetings. I like asking questions; I don’t feel comfortable with saying “I know this.” I admire people who ask thoughtful and interesting questions such as Charlie Rose , Terry Gross, Tom Ashbrook and Krista Tippett more than people who provide or seek out the answers.

Then, why did I want to be a teacher in the first place?

Because I am genuinely curious about people. I like listening to people and form relationships with them–not the kind of relationship you establish by sending out a friend request, but the one that requires face-to-face interactions and demands attention and care. As a teacher, I am encouraged and appreciated to be curious about people. I get paid to help students realize how fun learning is and how much potential they have. It is a blessing to be part of someone’s intellectual growth.  It is a privilege to be in the position where I can offer someone the opportunity or help him/her get the opportunity that could be the very starting point of his/her big dream.

Breathing in and breathing out. I’m trying to kick out this unwelcome guest I invited. A ghost of my making. Dissatisfaction with my performance has certainly helped me grow, but before it becomes too big and engulfs me, I better learn how to face a room for improvement with pride and high spirit.

I’m still learning and growing, surprisingly and thankfully.

p.s. Thomas Aquinas allegedly said, “Sorrow can be alleviated by good sleep, a bath and a glass of wine.” So, here we go!

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우산 만들 능력도, 비를 같이 맞는 방법도

“도운다는 것은 우산을 들어주는 것이 아니라 함께 비를 맞는 것” (p325. 감옥으로부터의 사색. 신영복 저).

참고 참다 어렵게 수화기를 들어 ‘힘들어…’ 하고 입을 뗀 친구나 후배의 전화에 난 제시해 줄 해결 방법이 없어 언제나 안절부절이었다. 뚝딱 우산을 만들어내지 못하는 나의 무능을 탓하며 그저 ‘그랬구나’ ‘괜찮아’만 반복했을 뿐.

그래서 신영복 선생님의 말에 맘이 놓였다. 아, 우산이 필요한게 아니구나. 비야 당연히 같이 맞아줄 수 있지.

그러다가 아차 했다. 내가 간과한 부분. 함께 비를 맞으면 내 옷도 젖어버린다는 사실. 톡톡 경쾌하게 내리는 봄비도 아니고, 영화 클래식에서 주인공 지혜가 선배 상민과 자켓을 우산삼아 자전거 탄 풍경의 분위기 있는 OST 를 배경으로 설레며 뛰던 빗속도 아니다. 으슥으슥한 날 감기 걸리기 딱 좋은 그런 비. 신발은 물론이요, 양말에 가방안의 노트에 속옷까지 기분나쁘게 다 젖게 만들 그런 비. 한시간 넘게 통화하며 연신 ‘괜찮아’를 반복하고 끊자마자 돌아서는 건 비맞는 시늉만 한 것일뿐. 비는 커녕 내 옷에 흙탕물도 튀지 않았구나.

“빈손으로 앉아 다만 귀를 크게 갖는다는 것이 과연 비를 함께 하는 것인지, 그리고 그것이 그에게 도대체 무슨 소용이 있는지 의심스럽지 않을 수 없습니다” (p325.감옥으로부터의 사색. 신영복 저).

난 아직 우산 만들 능력도, 비를 같이 맞는 방법도 모르겠다. 그저 가방을 우산삼아 가까운 역까지 같이 뛰고는 미역 처럼 붙어버린 머리와 물에 빠진 생쥐 마냥 쫄딱 젖은 모습을 보고 서로 깔깔대며 웃는동안 나의 벗이 이 비가 여우비인지 장대비인지 잠시 잊어버리길 바라는게 내가 해 줄 수 있는 전부가 아닐까.

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