Relationship Premises

dogcatI’ll tell a little story about life here at the kungfu school. Our dormitories are located in a former hospital, in two buildings with a courtyard between. But when I first came here in early 2008, the kungfu school only occupied the front-most  of the two buildings. Shifu acquired the back building shortly before I started studying here full-time.

The rooms of the former hospital had been being used for residence for a while, and there was one occupant who would not leave when the kungfu school took over. In the spirit goodwill, I imagine, no big fuss was made and that man– an older, retired herbal doctor — has continued to live at one end of the dormitory hallway. As a matter of fact, he is my next-door neighbor.

For various reasons, tensions between the kungfu students and my neighbor escalated. Not the least of these was the intrusion of pervasive Chinese culture shock into our ex-patriot stronghold, the one place in China we hoped to call our own. Also, he did not share our training schedule, so when we desperately needed rest he might be having a loud and alcoholic card game with his friends or stomping down the hallway or loudly and revoltingly clearing his throat and spitting on the floor. For a while we even shared a bathroom with the guy, and finding the remains of his having cleaned fish for dinner in your shower drain is never fun. Things bottomed out with multilingual screaming matches in the hallway and hard feelings all around.

But for me there was a significant turning point where my relationship with the guy stopped getting worse and started getting better. That was the moment when I realized he wasn’t going away. I think subconsciously my fellow students acted on the premiss that they could choose not to have this relationship, that if they antagonized him enough, he would move out. When I accepted that he was not going to move out, and that I didn’t want to be the kind of person who would drive him out, the question became not if I was going to have a relationship with this guy, but what kind of relationship ours would be.

There is a degree of satisfaction to be gained just by committing to a thing, that can’t be found while we withhold acceptance of that thing’s actuality. New people or circumstances are like a new piece of furniture that surprises you by appearing in your living room; if you can’t fit it out the door, it is better to rearrange the furniture and make a place for it than to leave it sitting in the middle of the floor.

As for my neighbor, all I really did was smile at him when I saw him in the hallway and compliment him once in a while if I liked his clothes or something. More than my external behavior, my internal behavior changed. When I started acting on the premiss that he was part of my life here in Wudang, his noise, his smelly cooking, his loud TV, it all stopped annoying me because I acknowledged his right to be there.

Life Skills: Acceptance of Others Without Judging Them

Teaching character and life skills to students

This post is especially for our children, helping them to respect the differences that they can see when meeting someone new, but as an adult we can examine how we act or react when we meet someone new too.  It is said that when meeting someone new we draw a conclusion about that person within 10 seconds of meeting them, whether they are equal to, greater than or less than ourselves.

Having said that we have all heard the expression, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”  Teaching our children not to look at someones clothes, how they look or act and decide if we are going to like them or not.  Some people are going to be taller or shorter, darker skin or lighter skin, blue eyes or brown eyes, dress in one way or a different way.  They may be in a wheelchair or able to walk, have a happy disposition or there may be reasons that they are not as happy.  We do not know them without getting to know who they are, what they like, and how they will behave when they are with friends.   It is only after we have spent some time with them and see how they will treat us and what we have in common as well as what we can learn from them – before we know if we like them or not.

Rejecting someone as a friend because of the way they look- is not showing acceptance and may leave us with fewer friends.

Life Skills: Acceptance – Starting With Ourselves

Teaching character and life skills to students

One of the hardest things to accept for many is themselves.  Have you ever noticed how hard we can be on ourselves?  We come down on ourselves for not being good enough, strong enough, organized enough or something.  Usually we are comparing ourselves to others who excel in an activity that we would like to improve on. Is it really fair to talk to ourselves that way?

Lets start with questions to ourselves like:

What is something that I like about myself?

What is unique about me?

What is one thing I am really good at?

What is one thing I enjoy doing?

Learning to accept and appreciate who we are, what our strengths are, and what we enjoy doing allows us to accept that others are very good at other activities that are not our strong points.  When we see others as ‘strong’ in some areas, we will be more willing to accept them for those areas of strength.

It is important as we work on creating a culture of peace in our homes and community to accept ourselves and others for our strengths knowing that both of us are OK.



Life Skills: Acceptance – Expanding Our Life Experience

Teaching character and life skills to students

Have you ever noticed that it is usually the differences between one person, group, or country with another that are viewed as wrong, shortcomings or not acceptable – that create some of the biggest challenges and aggressive behavior?  It can make things very difficult to move forward, to have an understanding, and to achieving goals in a team like manner.  If I look at someone and immediately reject them and their experiences because they do not fit our idea of being like us, we may be rejecting an opportunity to expand our own knowledge and experience.

If we have a hard time being accepting we may miss out on meeting and getting to know new people, trying new things or even learning about new things.  Being able to look past the appearances may allow us to explore the individuality of someone new.  Have you ever had a conversation with someone that normally you would not be conversing with, only to find out how interesting they are, or that the two of you have some very common interests?

Everyone of us has a story.  In my experience I have found that we are more the same than we might expect.  Being able to accept someone for who they are, what they might look like and where they are in their life is one of the keys to expanding our own experiences in life.

Life Skills: Acceptance – How Parents Can Start Teaching Acceptance to Our Children

Teaching character and life skills to students

Long before we are able to accept others for who they are, we must learn to accept ourselves for who we are.  It was interesting how when our students were asked about one thing that they liked about themselves, they came up with the things they like to do.  Then a few of them talked about how they liked being a kind person, or someone who made friends easily.

Liking ourselves begins with knowing what we enjoy doing, our favorite (whatever) and then being willing to stick with that even if it is different than what others like to do.  As parents we sometimes have in our mind what we would like to see our children like and how we would like to see them be.   However if our child likes to build things they may not be the next greatest soccer player, no matter how much we would like to see that happen.  As a parent our acceptance of that and celebration of them is important to their growth in self-esteem, confidence and resistance to bullying that may take place.

Never underestimate the power of our words.  In one of our classes after not getting a great response to what do you like about yourself, I proceeded to look at each student and tell them what I found unique and special about each of them.  Later in the evening I asked one of the students what they had said about themselves and she could not remember.  But quickly said, “But I remember what you said.”  Affirming our appreciation for what is different and unique and special about our children will help them to accept themselves and from there we can build on accepting others.