Monday, September 03, 2007

Learn from Everybody

(with so much thanks to The Man in the Yellow Hat for helping me figure out how to put this into words)

You are very eclectic and can find meaning in a jar of tuna.
~Holy Hyrax


There is something that seems so natural to me that I never thought to distill it and actually put it into words. But I think that if I had to do so, if I somehow had to distill down my philosophy of life and bottle it and sell it, it can be reduced to three words: Learn from Everybody.

This is what I strive to do, no matter where I am or the situation in which I find myself. The reason I ask questions from hairdressers, manicurists and good friends alike is because I truly believe that we can and ought to learn from everybody. I have learned from people when they had no idea I was watching; I have learned both what to do and what not to do. All opinions and ideas are valuable, even ones with which I intensely disagree, because I need to work through them in order to figure out why I disagree with them, what there is that I find disturbing or reprehensible and cannot agree with, what it is that is bothering me.

I do not learn the same things from people. I learn completely different things from completely different people, and these lessons are reinforced on different occasions. There are times where something is set out so beautifully for me that there is no way that I could not learn. Take this conversation with my manicurist's husband. I asked him what he would wish for if he had three wishes. He explained that he would not wish for wealth, as he felt that being wealthy is too much of a headache, that so many people want to take advantage of you and hit you up for money that it is not even worthwhile. He would wish for:

1. Health
2. A stable job
3. More time with his kids

This is not the kind of man to say these things lightly; this is a man who is very simple and very hardworking, someone who has worked at many different jobs and who has the most positive attitude I have ever seen. This is a man who truly means what he says, who grins up at me and smiles and answers all my questions kindly.

So from this man, I learn about kindness and what is truly important in life. From my hairstylist, I learn about the power of listening, about the way in which she siphons off pain from her customers. From my friends, I learn what it means to be a friend; they teach me so much about interacting with other people. I also learn from their ideas and opinions on various subjects that are of interest to me. I learn from the way that people interact with and treat one another; there are some people who treat others so tenderly that I immediately flare up with love for them and others who are so cruel that I cannot understand them.

I have learned from people who are religious and non-religious. I have even learned from people I find to be morally wrong! Last year, there was an entire confrontation that took place in my room where two friends realized that their friend's boyfriend was cheating on her (this meant he was making out/ hooking up with another girl.) They got on the phone with her and broke the news to her, told her they were there for her, then called up the boyfriend and cursed him out soundly, swore at him, told him he was a bastard and continued in this manner, shouting all the while.

Now, I don't believe that premarital sex is correct according to the law (it was intimated that this was part of what had been going on) but what impressed me in this situation was these girls' loyalty. I thought the way they were so loyal to their friend, the way they stood by her and were on the phone with her all night and completely cursed out the other boyfriend- was amazing. So even then, even though these people don't hold by the ideas I hold by, I am still able to learn from them and learn something very worthwhile.

I have learned things that are simple and that are very complex, everything from the sweetness and kindness inherent in someone's natural disposition to matters that are very complicated and require much explanation. I have learned in a formal setting and an informal setting, where I am actually being taught or when I am simply having a conversation, soaking in information. There is no person on this earth who is too low to teach me something or from whom I cannot benefit- there is something to learn from everyone, something that everyone has to teach me.

And this is one of the things that truly enables me to love people. How can I not love people who have taught me so much? At the very least I am grateful, and feel so happy to be blessed to be able to benefit and learn from these people, especially my friends, and I do my best to thank them often and frequently for affording me this opportunity or teaching me and helping me to see things in a new and different light. People are so beautiful.

So yes, to some extent, I can find meaning in a jar of tuna. But I think that's how it should be; everyone in the world can and has taught me. I have learned from people who were handicapped, from a little boy with leg braces who smiled up at me at a museum, from an elderly lady in a nursing home, from homeless people on the street. I have learned and strive to continue to learn from everyone, and there is nothing in this life that is as wonderful or as pleasant as benefiting from this. People have such different lives and such different stories that it is impossible to go through the day without learning something new and exciting and absolutely fantastic, and therefore every day is wonderful, and every person amazing.

Thank you so much to everyone for teaching me and being willing to tell me your stories, ideas, opinions or beliefs- or for simply being, and letting me learn from watching you when you don't even know I am looking. You are all incredible.


Sarah Likes Green said...

That is a great motto and, I suppose, way to live.

Chana said...


Yes, but I'm not Myshkin.

Stubborn and Strong said...

my father always said, "Who is more important person, a cleaning person or a hotel manager?" A cleaning person made a hotel manager to be rich because without her/him, a hotel manager won't survive in hotel circle. As you see, my father was trying to said that nobody is too low from us. Each person has a thier own thing and suppose to help another person. Encomomy can't survive without labors. As you said, you could learn from EVERYBODY.

e-kvetcher said...

>Yes, but I'm not Myshkin

Did you get offended by my question?

Chana said...

No, but I'm looking for its relevance to the topic ;-)

e-kvetcher said...

Well, in your last few posts you've professed your platonic love for many of your friends and fellow students, you had asked forgiveness, etc...

I think these illustrate a very pure soul and I also think that the rest of the world often doesn't know how to deal with this type of openness. Our society, in America, is especially uncomfortable with open expressions of emotion and passion.

So in a way, this made me think of Prince Myshkin and his interactions with those who just could not understand where he was coming from.

I didn't mean to imply that you're insane ;)

haKiruv said...

Even bad things an be used as bad examples.

yitz said...

is it too meta if I ask you who you learned "learning things from people" from?

(i learned it from my father)

Scraps said...

The ability to learn from everyone, to have people talk to you and share themselves and for you to truly hear and understand them, is a rare and incredibly special ability. I try to do the same, but I'm not nearly as unprejudiced as you, so that gets in the way somewhat. It is easier for me to understand people who are like me and learn from them; I'm not nearly as good at learning from random people I encounter.

You're a special girl, Chana! :)

yitz said...

chazal on learning from everyone:

"I learned from all my teachers," David HaMelech says in Tehillim [119:99]. Our Sages tell us in Pirkei Avos [4:1] that a truly wise person is he who learns from everyone. Indeed, the Maggid of Mezritch taught the Rebbe Reb Zusia [of Anipoli] that one can learn three things from a baby, and seven from a thief. Among those seven is that "a thief never gives up. If he fails the first time, he keeps on trying until he succeeds."

copied from: heichal haneginah (of a different yitz)

seraphya said...

I wish I could have referred to this post over the summer to explain to my chanichim who were arguing with me on some of these points.

The pirkei avot of "who is truly smart? The one who learns from everyone" just didn't do it.

This was a beautiful way of explaining a lot of what I am about.

It is not the trite "learn from every situation" or "learn from your mistakes". It is much more than that. Its an invitation to explore the world and really get so much more out of the details. the broader picutre and everywhere in between.

To me, this even connects to the ideas of Rav Kook of taking the Kodesh from the Chol and elevating them.

Again, thanks for this post.

Jennifer.Freiman said...