Thank you for your participation in today's Monthly Service.
It is August, and the school year has begun. I, of course, work as a teacher at a high school, and at this time of year, I often relay my expectations for the students.
Each year, I tell my students that I will do my best to teach them different techniques and guide them in their development. I will do my best and see what things are working for them and what are not, and then help them to change anything that isn't, and keep anything that is. But there are two types of students that I cannot teach. I do still try to teach them, I do still try to guide them, but often, if their personality types do not change, all that I do, will not be effective for them.
One is the way of thinking of "I am great." Once you think that you are great, there is no more learning. This would be called arrogance. Though this type of student may be far advanced compared to other students, they are not at the professional level, and often, the difference in their level compared to other students begin to narrow, as they begin their journey in high school. I have seen many "gifted" students fall due to their own arrogance.
The second way of thinking is "I am terrible." or "I suck." This in its strange way has the same effect as those who think they are great. Most of the time, these students are comparing themselves to others, which in itself is not a bad thing, but they then decide that they are terrible at what they do. They may not be wrong, however, it isn't because of "who" they are that makes them terrible, but "how" they do things, in other words, they lack practice, or give up at practicing. I tell them that the only reason really why the talented students are better, is that they practice more. They practice, they get better, they get better, they have more fun, they have more fun, they practice more. We all need to work at our skill, it never comes in a day. In this digital world, we often forget this. We often forget that real life requires hard work. How it becomes similar to arrogance, is that when I try to tell them to try a certain method or technique that would help them improve, the response to me is often, "You don't understand, I just can't." It may be true I do not understand, which is why we should try to uncover the reason together... but this phrase is basically saying, "You don't know what you are talking about. You can't help," or simply, "I know (me) better than you." These are the same words arrogant people relay.
In Tenrikyo, we call arrogance a Dust of the Mind. But what is arrogance? One of my favorite authors is Amy Tan. In the movie, "Joy Luck Club," which is based on her book, it makes an observation of Asian culture. In Asian culture, people often put ourselves down to appear humble. If I took a sip of milk then find that it is spoiled, and if I tell that it is spoiled, then ask you to drink it, would you? It is a funny joke sometimes that we're willing to smell that spoiled milk container even after being told it smells bad. But would you be okay if I said, it was spoiled, and then serve it to you anyway? Yet in this culture, we often offer a dish that we may have cooked to others by saying, "it's not that good, but try it anyway."
Pride is not arrogance. There is a fine line, but it is okay to be proud. "I cooked this dish. I think it's pretty good, your tastes may be different, but please give it a try." "I have accomplished this," "I got a first place trophy," but when does it turn to arrogance. In my observation of school students, pride turns to arrogance when we add a qualifier--a ranking of sort, or a sense of entitlement to it. "I am the best," which indicates others are not as good as you, "I got a first place trophy, and I deserved it." "I'm number 1!"
It is good practice to be humble. Humility is what allows us to improve ourselves, but there is also a fine line between being humble, and putting yourself down. "No, I'm not that good, I do try hard though," would be a humble statement. Similar to arrogance, it seems that crossing the fine line would mean to add some kind of ranking or sense of entitlement. "No, I'm not that good. I suck at it, really." "No, I'm not that good, I don't deserve to be complimented like that." Not only does this prevent you from becoming better, whether you are at a high level or entry level of skill, but the person complimenting you was just insulted. If that person was at a lower level than you, you're saying that they are worse than you, which is a level of 'terrible'. If they are at a higher level than you, you're telling them, they don't know how to judge what level you're at.
It is okay to be proud, it is okay to be humble, and to be fairly honest, both are usually combine, just as being arrogant and putting yourself down, actually go hand-in-hand.
I too, reflect on my actions often. I reflect if it is arrogant or not, and I often find that all I really need to be is honest, "I thought that I did pretty good, but I really want to get better."
I'm not perfect, and I'm always learning. Let us all continue to learn as well. Mahalo