Archive for September, 2011

Learning From Everyone

Friday, September 9th, 2011

Our sages say in one of my favorite works of the Jewish tradition “Ethics of the Fathers”, that a wise person is one who learns from everyone.  It is a great way to live our lives albeit not an easy one.  Its very humbling and yet quite powerful to commit to live by this principle.  One begins to look at people very differently and the natural by-product of that is that the need to put others down in order to feel good about oneself begins to vanish.

Living in China provides me with many wonderful opportunities to put this principle in practice.  China is quite unique and, as a Western, it’s easy for me to categorize  many of the local habits as “bad”, “weird” and downright “rude”.  Slowly I began to understand a lot more about the culture and about where many of their habits came from.  Needless to say that’s the subject for a thesis, but my point here is that I decided to make an effort to meet people where they were and learn from them whilst respecting my own limitations.

I am writing this post from Harbin, a city in the Northern part of China, near Russia.  The city is quite interesting.  Today I went running in the morning and walked around in the afternoon.  I needed to get water, money from the ATM and a good cup of coffee after lunch.  I don’t speak Mandarin yet (I will one day) and it’s not like there are signs in English pointing out to the nearest supermarket or coffee shop – Starbucks is not here yet!  There are signs in Russian but apart from “espaciba” which means thanks, I don’t know much else.  So I decided to smile at my every attempt to communicate and ask for information that would lead me to an ATM, a supermarket and a coffee shop.  It turned out that my efforts and my smiles were met with more smiles.  I learned that kindness is to be found everywhere even when I cannot communicate, and that people will respond depending on what I give.

Look around you for opportunities to learn from the most unexpected people.  You will be surprised at what they can teach you!

With energy,