Balance. Purpose. Enlightenment.

Learning How to Improve

Search others for their virtues, thyself for thy vices. – Franklin

During our two years as Peace Corps teachers, the only Americans on a small island, Bob and I spent many evenings comparing notes and ideas, seeking refuge from the strangeness of our surroundings in each other’s companionship.

I thought I could listen, but finding a truly quiet person, I discovered just how much I could talk. And gradually, I realized I was trying to impress Bob with what I considered penetrating observations of our hosts, the islanders. But Bob said little.

Uncomfortable with this state of affairs, I asked him about it. He said as he listened, his own ideas were churning around. Often he didn’t feel a need to respond, but if he did, he wanted to organize his thoughts before airing them. This confirmed my suspicion that if I would wait a minute, Bob would say something. When I finally tried it, it worked. Our conversations became more engaging, and I enjoyed hearing what he had to say. That’s when I started learning how to improve.

Illness was a frequent unwelcome visitor on our island, where sanitation was rudimentary. I had several sick days. Bob, though, didn’t miss more than two days’ teaching in two years because of illness. And when the principal announced one of his impulsive holidays, I was often glad for a day off, but Bob’s classes went right on, five days a week. I had to conclude he kept himself healthier and had a stronger dedication to his teaching than I did.

Bob was a meticulous housekeeper, too, every can of food on his simple shelves neatly lined up with the label facing front. My approach was more relaxed, but I was learning how to improve and his example spurred me to greater efforts. Yet, this difference uncovered another less desirable aspect of my approach to life: I often compared Bob’s way of doing things with my own and I didn’t measure up so well. Why did I do this? Eventually I realized I was sharing my inadequacies to make him feel good, to seem humble, to show I could laugh at myself. But did it make him uncomfortable to hear me praising him and criticizing myself so often?

learning how to improve
I learned more about myself from our games of chess

I learned more about myself from our innumerable games of Scrabble and chess. I usually won at Scrabble, but lost at chess, the test of concentration and foresight. Naturally, I enjoyed Scrabble more and dreaded chess. After a while, surprisingly, Bob wanted to play more Scrabble in an effort to improve, though he often lost and got angry with himself. Watching him lose and fight his frustration made it easier to accept and work on my own feelings. I began wanting to play chess for the challenge rather than staying with the more secure Scrabble. After some agonizing losses, I began to see possibilities previously unimagined, and for the first time, chess became fun, because I was learning. And when I finally won, it felt like conquering an ogre.

I was deep in the study of the Lemurian Philosophy during this interesting interval in our lives, and I know this had a lot to do with my readiness to really LISTEN – to be learning how to improve, changing myself and trying to become a better person. I’m sure Bob never knew just how helpful he was to me in this project, but I’ll always be grateful for all I learned from him.

Copyright © 2016 Lemurian Fellowship

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