Monthly Archives: December 2013

太平洋におしっこ

目撃した敵を作って争う三人の話。

11月半ば 恵比寿駅の横浜方面の湘南新宿ラインのホームに電車が到着して、扉が居合いた。扉の左側に立っていた人にが座っていた人の髪の毛を引っ張っていた。座っている人にが「痛い、痛い!」と言った。

電車に載った私は立っていた人の背中を叩いた。「おおい!おおい!どうしたんだい?」

男が相手の髪のを引っ張るのをやめて、私はを見た。びっくりした顔だった。ホームで音楽がなり始まって、間もなくドアが閉まるという合図だった。すると、男は顔が「おりないと!」と焦った顔に変わって、床のカバンを持ち上げて、その中からスイカのカードが床に落ちた。私はしゃがんでカードを拾って、うなづきながら渡した。

男がおりて、ホームで立って、窓を覗き込んで、怒り思い出した。肩で窓ガラスをぶつけた。扉が閉まった。

私は髪の毛の引っ張られた人にのとなりに座った。「お友達ですか。」と聞いた。

「いや。知らない人。」
「どうした?」
「座って寝ていたら、膝が横に倒れたのが気に入らなかったみたい。」

12月11日 夜、新宿駅で、人ごみの中で、人ごみの中で私の前に歩いていた男性が反対方向に歩いている人と通り過ごしながらぶつかった。反対方向の人が歩き続けて人ごみの中に消えたが、男性が立ち止まって、不機嫌な顔をして、人ごみに向けて「おおい、ぶつかったら、謝るんだよ!」と言った。

12月12日 朝通勤に電車が止まって、扉が開いて、人が電車に載って来た。座っていた男性がここで降りなければいけないと気づいたかのように急に立ち上げて、載ったばかりの人が邪魔で触れずには通れなかった。お互い肩とかとを触れながら通れたけど、扉を出る前に載ったばかりの人が悪かったかのように振り向いて、嫌気を顔に表し、降りた。乗ったばかりの人がその顔に気づかなくて降りた人の席に座った。

以上のが連発で起きて、今日のブロッグのインスピレーションになった。

敵を作るのは偶然あるいは自分の見込みが不足していることによる不便に敵対心を持つ。無形の世界に我と他を意識して形成させる。「無敵」とはこうして敵を作らない。

人に動揺されない方法は我を捨てるけど、これは難しくてすぐにできない。かなり効くカンニング方法は「この人は一見大人に見えるけど、いまはこの場合では子供だ」と考えること。子供は未熟だから、怒れなくなる。まるで太平洋におしっこ。盛大なる容量があるのみならず、その窒素を毒から肥料に変え、私が含める万物の育成に生かす。あは!

皆さん、これから年末年始は寒いから、心暖かく人と暖かく過ごしてください。そして、無敵で人と一緒にいることが喜びになりますように。

Reverse Culture Shock

A thoughtful friend of mine recently returned to the United States wrote to me about reverse culture shock.

“[I was shocked when my friend said.] I don’t care what you think. I’m gonna do it my way.” — which was one thing you mocked Americans for saying.

… I’m kind of surprised by how much noise there is, how loud and noisy people themselves are. It seems like we use space to “solve” issues, mitigating problems just by putting more distance between ourselves. Not just manners … we move our trash away to landfills, people move away from people they don’t like, etc.

And I’ve found myself coping by re-adopting a lot of these bad habits. Americans are also great at fighting fire with more fire.

I was first of all surprised at the speed that my friend absorbed a lot of Japanese thinking very quickly his brief stay here. I noticed the things that he mentioned, but it took me longer – maybe on the order of five years to his two weeks.

Why is reverse culture shock a sad thing at all? It seems like it must be a gain, because people who don’t absorb the culture where they travel never get culture shock. This additional cultural knowledge should result in being more able to empathize with people and more skill in working with ambiguous situations.

Why then, the sense of disorientation when coming back to one’s home culture, which one should in fact understand better than when he left? As with so many forms of interpersonal interaction, I find insights through the practice of martial arts. Martial arts is physical practice in negotiating ambiguity and conflict resolution, and represents the world in microcosm.

Each art, and to a large extent, each school is a collection of strategies for dealing with situations, and expectations about what your partner will attempt to do. This makes up its culture, and this structure is necessary because the actual world is too chaotic and boundless to lend itself to study. Some level of formalization is necessary to begin exploration and mapping of the world. Yet when the practitioner goes to another school to study, or switches to a different martial art, he finds that the formalization is a gross approximation. There is shock at encountering a different system of expectations, movement, and negotiation. He may exploit some effective openings, and face difficulties where he has his own gaps in understanding. This is culture shock.

After which, the student returns to his school, and is able to see what is wrong with what he is being taught. He may see possible counterattacks that have not been accounted for. He may see more efficient ways of moving. He may see that his partner is moving in response to a preconception, instead of responding to the situation at hand. When he sees such discrepancies in the people he was studied with and tried to learn from, he may become disillusioned with his teachers and fellow students. This is one definition of reverse culture shock.

Reverse culture shock requires its own coping mechanisms. At times people’s thinking and behavior look so obviously to stem from blind dogmatism that one has a strong desire to overtly educate people, but this seldom works well. The knowledge that we have is generally gained through experience, and acts at a level deeper than conscious thought. While a theoretical explanation works on a conscious level, it has a limited effect on behavior. What you have learned through experience, the other person must also learn by experience. Yet relentlessly exploiting a weakness to attempt to compress the experiential learning can make the other person become psychologically closed off. So, the most natural way to bring about change is to work within a framework of trust and feed the practice partner a set of ideas and experiences at a level appropriate to him. This may be done so subtly that the other person sees them not as things you are teaching but as insights that he has gained through interacting with you.

So this takes care of the problem of transmitting knowledge… This is another definition of reverse culture shock – the strong desire to pass on what one has learned. But the other issue is once there was the comfort of expecting that there was a correct way of doing things, and the confidence that it could be discovered. That comfort is gone. What is left is a feeling of being an outsider after having traveled to a different school, yet on returning in one’s home school, there is no relief – one still feels like an outsider. This is something I am still struggling with, but I think it is the beginning of being one’s own teacher, of having the sense that there is a lot to be learned, but we have to walk our own path, and there might be no one who can teach us everything that we want to know.

Yet, this path is formless and by definition, unwalkable. I can see in children of bi-cultural families where the parents are inconsistent in applying discipline, and in students who try to start two martial arts at the same time, that the students are confused by conflicting messages. While it may be possible for parents to completely educate children biculturally, or for the student of high physical aptitude to start in two martial arts at the same time, this is generally very difficult. For any student, there must be a home culture, a starting point. And, because we are all students, we must choose for ourselves a place to start. We must choose for ourselves a home ground, even with the realization that the worldview it represents is not objectively correct. American and Japanese culture are not correct to the exclusion of the other. Aikido and Karate are not correct to the exclusion of the other. Mathematically speaking, euclidean and polar coordinates are not correct to the exclusion of the other. They are just better adapted to different situations. After the shock of discovering the limitations of one’s original value system, one is painfully aware that choosing any perspective means that some things will be obscured from view. One is loathe to take on any obstructions again, so it is counter-intuitive to choose, but for any progress to be made, we have to choose a starting point.

In Aikido, I have often traveled to schools where they say “we follow” a certain teacher, and I have met Jewish rabbis who say “we follow” a certain rabbi. These are vast systems of codified and sometimes contradictory points of view that try to map the chaos of human choices into a transmittable system; the hope is that each generation can learn just a little bit faster and get a little bit smarter than the previous one. Without this codification, each generation would be stuck with the enormous task of creating its culture from scratch. But, even Aikido and Judaism are so vast that people choose a teacher to follow – one who has wrestled with contradictions and developed explanations – they explicitly choose a point of view to be the starting point of their experiential learning.

Cultures, like all maps, are feeble approximations of the real world, but one map must be chosen. In realizing that the map is not the territory, dogmatism turns into a healthy distrust of the map, which one follows with a measure of faith, but with an awareness that there are places not mapped accurately, or not mapped at all. We heed the GPS, but keep our eyes on the road.

Just Do It

My friend Frank told me: “All piano pieces are a thing unto themselves. Nothing can prepare you for a piece. You should just jump in and start learning.”

I thought about the wide applicability of this statement, not just to piano pieces, but relationships, jobs, trips to new places, learning to converse in a foreign language – each is a thing unto itself. Nothing can really prepare you for it. You just have to jump in and start learning.
Often, though, we put of jumping in and try to learn by proxy, but reading books on dating will not prepare you for the exhilarations and disappointments of a relationship, a college education will not prepare you for looking for a job and marketing your abilities, travel guides will not tell you where the secret quite spots are, and memorizing lots of grammar will not enable you to converse in a foreign language.
Theory and practice operate in two different realms. Music theory is not the same as playing the piano.
Knowledge and instinct operate in two different realms. Knowledge of ten dance steps doesn’t enable you to dance.
And how you learn a difficult section, Frank explained, “Start with the last note of a section, then play the note before it, then play the note before it, and just keep adding notes.”
Just do it.