I figured out about a dozen years ago that the more I or anyone else is sure about being right, the greater the likelihood of being wrong. There’s no mathematical equation involved; it’s just a matter of open-mindedness. It’s a matter of being able to see beyond one’s own point of view long enough or broadly enough to entertain its flaws.
This lesson was many years and emotional bruises in the making. It had to evolve from a youth of frequently being criticized, through a young adulthood of constant insistence on my near infallibility, through a lifestyle-changing early motherhood that required I let others be right, because mine and my son’s well-being depended on it. So for the last twelve to seventeen years, I’ve caught myself learning more and arguing less when one of the top three questions I ask myself in a conflict is: “Am I wrong?”
I’ve asked that several times this week in multiple ways, including right here. I reached out to the other side of the world to find out from one I was sure would tell me that my side of the street is dirty if, in fact, it is. And tell me she did.
My side is dirty because it is culturally unacceptable to criticize one’s superior and potentially make him lose face. It was incumbent upon me, in an East/West cultural clash, to accommodate the customs of his culture when in his school. So I apologized to him for a second time.
The challenge now is to make my dirty hands matter more to me than his. Odds are high he hasn’t entertained for a moment whether his side of the street and/or hands are clean. No. Correction: he’s certain he’s entirely in the right. I have to just accept that, and frankly, that’s hard.
It’s hard because he grew up in a major northeastern U.S. city and is every bit as Western as I am when he chooses to be. It’s hard because the attitudes and behavior of almost every instructor in the building – including the Chinese American ones who are older than Sifu – don’t reflect our leader’s strict philosophy. The school’s teachers – Sifu’s choices – are casual, communicative, friendly and warm, with very few exceptions.
I don’t understand how the lines are drawn by Sifu or where, but for as long as I’m in his school, I have to accept that they move. I have to follow the culture… though it appears to be a culture of one.