“TEACHERS AND STUDENTS OF LIFE”

If we didn’t choose to pamper our ego so much, we could actually teach each other and learn from one another. Perhaps you find my point of view a little bit too philosphical. Maybe I’m not being realistic enough.

It’s true that someone older is always expected to have more experiences than the young. The question is: can they all teach? What are they teaching and how do they do that?

Does this mean the young do not have anything to give, something valuable to share with? Do they know nothing?

I disagree. I’ve seen many examples every day. There are a lot that I could tell you about, but for now – let’s pick one.

This happened in Ma’s kitchen one morning of Eid holiday. Ma and I were cooking and preparing meals for our family gathering that whole day. My then six-year-old nephew Gyan walked in. He was watching me cut and slice red and white jelly for Ma’s fruit punch. (Yes, that’s part of her recipe.)

“Bibi, what’re you doing?” asked Gyan curiously. When I explained it to him, he exclaimed: “Oooh, so that’s for Nini’s fruit punch!” That’s how all my sister’s kids call Ma: Nini for ‘Grandmother’ in Sundanese.

Meanwhile, I am their Bibi (Auntie).

“That’s right, Gyan-ku.”

“White and red jelly,” Gyan went on. “Just like Indonesian flag.”

“Red and white,” I tried to correct him, but my nephew disagreed. He shook his head quickly.

“No, Bibi,” he said. “White and red. We should start everything from the lowest level.”

I decided to let it go that morning. I kissed the top of his head for a different reason, though. He’d just said something really interesting. I considered that a nice reminder to all grownups. (Yes, me included.)

As children, most of us remember how fun it was to learn about everything from the start. We weren’t too scared of making any mistakes along the way. We were curious to see how far we could go. When one thing was done, we moved on to another. It didn’t really matter.

Then, what had changed?

I could say that, somewhere along the way, reality had set us into certain standards. For example: you have to know how to drive a car at 17 if you wish to get a lisence. Learn to excel at subjects you may not really like, at least in order to pass and graduate.

Some adults I’ve come across seemed to lack courage and confidence in learning and making mistakes. Perhaps they feel they’re too old already. They’re afraid that they can’t remember as much and fast as they used to.

Others may fear making mistakes and looking like fools. They feel that they’ve known enough, they need not learn anything new anymore. Do some of them have that tendency to laugh at other people – and even each other – for being wrong? Sounds more likely. No wonder they’re so scared. Perhaps deep down, they know that it could be them next time.

The tables can still turn. They always do.

That morning, my nephew Gyan had taught me something important: always start from the basic level, especially if you’ve never done that before. Why pretend to be an expert? Why should we insist on standing tall all the time?

If we are willing to choose not to pamper our ego so much, there’s a lot that we can teach and learn from each other. After all, we’re teachers and students of life…

R.

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