Monday, August 26, 2019

Learning from Others

We can learn from others by imitating admirable behavior and avoiding despicable actions.  A Japanese saying puts it concisely: Correct your manners by watching those of others.  

There is a similar saying of Biblical and Mosaic origin, known as the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31).  I find this saying puzzling; what I like being done to me may be displeasing or even repulsive to someone else.  This saying, in short, is decisively prescriptive.  

The Golden Rule, also so known, in Confucius’s Analects, while similar, is passive; it states prohibitively: What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.  Do and Don’t mark the distinction.  Interestingly, Rabbinic Judaism in the words of Rabbi Hillel, matches Confucius: Do not do to others what you would not have done to you (Tobit 4:16). 

All this had been debated at length through the centuries from Kant to George Bernard Shaw and beyond.  The Japanese saying, significantly, is peculiarly Japanese; it is directive but passively and reflectively.  

All this reflection came about as I remembered how Mother habitually said these words: Correct your manners by watching those of others.  In my rebellious youth, I may have ignored them, but so long as I remember I had them deeply incised in my heart and as I matured I accepted them seriously. Reflecting in old age, I could say proudly that through my life I followed them as best as I could, except, being a contrarian by nature, I often rejected what was considered proper among those I observed and chose my way away from it or against it. 


これと似た様な表現が英語にもありますね。キリスト教、更に遡ってモーセの掟で、『自分にして欲しいことは、相手にもせよ」(マテオ  712節、ルカ 631節)。でも、奇妙なのは、自分に気に入ったことが相手には不快なだったり、嫌だったりすることもあるでしょう。つまり、この表現は決定的に行動を規定するものです。





Sunday, August 25, 2019

Listening with the Body

When I watch a dance performance, I follow the dancer’s movement by twitching my muscles to mimick the dancer but without moving my limbs so as not to  disturb my fellow viewers.  In other words, I watch not just with my eyes but with my whole body.  

Similarly, when I attend a live music performance, I also work my muscles and thus listen to the music with my whole body, not just with my ears, as the performing musicians obviously do, too; I follow them in their bodily movements as I do when I watch dancers. 

It is not uncommon today among those who claim to love music to listen to the recorded or broadcast music while being engaged in a task of one sort of another — writing, reading, painting, cooking, doing whatever chores being done.  I do, too, sometimes when I have the radio on and music happens to be playing.  But when I put on a CD, I have to sit and follow the music with full attention, for only then I can say that the music was listened to, not just heard.  It should not be surprisingly, then, that I consider attending a live performance with its visual componens the only valid way of listening to music; recorded music is a partial realization, as a photographic reproduction of a painting is to the painting itself.  Once we learn to listen to music fully with our whole body, it becomes hard to just let it be heard aurally.  It always amazes me at concerts that the audience almost invariably sit tight with their head fixed straight as though in a church. I cannot help moving my head slightly to focus on the changing sources of the sound, strings here, winds here, and percussion over there, and discreetly move my right hand with the bowing hand of string players as I once played violin as a child and cello later.   As I listen, I become partially a participant in the performance.  Participatory listening is more natural to jazz than to classic music; and yet, even at jazz clubs, I notice in amazement that the audience for the most part sit perfectly still.  Yes, there are some who get up and dance in total participation. 

It is well to remember that until the rise of radio broadcasting at the end of the 19th century, music was exclusively live.  It could be heard in a concert hall or in private homes, customarily chamber music literally.  Live broadcast, incidentally, a curious contradiction in terms; isn’t it more accurate to say simultaneous broadcast?

I think we can say the same thing to some extent with talks, lectures, and discussions; when we listen, totally absorbed in what is being said, as we watch the speaker and her/his gesticulations, we also respond with our whole body and the substance of the talk registers more firmly in our mind.  This argues strongly for the value of live classroom learning. 

This argues strongly for the value of live classroom learning.  From the teaching side of the fence, I argue that professors who read from their notes fail to understand the significance of the bodily communication with the students by which the importance of bodily listening can only be taught and understood.


Saturday, August 24, 2019


Time spent with a friend is always a bliss, and one could perhaps say, conversely, that when time spent with someone was onerous, that person was not a friend, but only an acquaintance.  This is certainly a trite statement, a truism insofar as the definition of the word friendship is affection, implying mutual trust and support.  Still, in old age, when loneliness tends to prevail, friendship assuredly delivers a sense of fulfillment — happiness.  


In the arms, on the back だっこ、おんぶ

小さな子供が、母親の手を握って、楽しそうにスキップしながら付いていくのをみるとると、あたし自身の子供の頃を思い出し心が温まります。お手つなぎは、手のひらを合わせるものという考えが念頭にあって、手首を握られると嫌がって振り放したものでした。そして、疲れてきて「だっこ」や「おんぶ」してもらったりした時の暖かい安楽感は忘れがたいものです。叔父の「肩乗り」は少し不安でしたけど, 高さの見晴らしがよく、初めて乗馬した時にその記憶が脳裏に浮かびました。

When I see a little girl with her hand in her mother’s hand go skipping along joyfully, my heart warms up watching her as I remember my own childhood. I believed that holding Mother’s hand meant clasping the palms together; so, I disliked having my wrist grasped and would shake my hand off.  When I got tired of walking and skipping, I would be carried in Mother’s arms (dakko in Japanese) or on her back (onbu) comfortably, and that warm sense of security is unforgettable.  Riding on the shoulders of my uncle was a bit scary but the view from the high point was wonderful, and I recalled the sensation when I got on horseback for the first time. 


Sunday, April 7, 2019

Capitalist Farce

In this capitalist democracy, the poor is granted a full right and the rich deems to claim an equal right proportionate to the size of its wealth. Oh, what a farce. 


Growing Older

As a child, we yearn to grow up, delighting in earning one year, year by year, counting our age on our fingers when our birthday comes around. Growing older was exciting.  Many of us in our 20s experience trepidation as we approach 30.  Getting older becomes anathema as we get older.  Curious, isn’t it, that in old age, aging becomes innocuous, maybe even welcome.  This is my experience, anyway. Reaching 80, I started to find delight, again, earning one full year, year by year.  It is a delight in reflection rather than in anticipation, this satisfaction, looking back, of having spent a year in health and contentment, a sense of accomplishment even without any accomplishment to boast of.  At 86, I look forward to my 87th birthday.  It’s great.


2019: Turning Point

All these ten years, I went out every day and night, feeling that I had to see everything the city had to offer — arts, performances, and places; but that is impossible in this city of overflowing cultural places and events.  Before that, for eight years, splitting time between Swarthmore, PA, and New York City, I could see only what I could.  Having full time in the city whetted my voracious appetite limitlessly.  I wouldn’t say I now feel saturated.  But I am ready to start feeling that I don’t have to see everything, not even everything I want to see.  I am beginning to feel content seeing what I could, as before, but not by being constrained by available time or energy, but, for now, by exercising willful selectivity. At 86 I am finally a little bit wiser.