20 November 2018

Being Grateful

pebble in a pond
At this time of year when we focus on gratitude, many reasons to be grateful come to mind.   One in particular which takes priority for me this year is a valuable lesson I learned about writing, nearly three decades ago.  It was from a friend who was enrolled in an English as a Second Language (ESL) course at the time.  I learned the lesson because of comments his ESL teacher had made on a paper he had written.  Since his English was not a problem, the comments puzzled him.  He wondered what I thought about them.

As I read the comments after having read the paper, it was clear that at issue was the arrangement of content.  I learned from the comments and suggestions his teacher had noted on his paper, and shared with him what I understood the issue to be from those comments, so that he also understood her comments -  more precisely what I had learned from her comments about the issue she had with the arrangement of content in the paper.

I did not ever mention to him that I had learned a valuable English lesson from him about arrangement of content - albeit, indirectly, because of the lesson being from his teacher.  But, he was "the messenger" of a valuable lesson I learned, that we both learned from his instructor.  So I have often intended to credit him for providing the opportunity for me to also learn that lesson.

I did not realize I had learned a good and lasting lesson about arrangement of content until two years later when it served me well in a technical writing course.  As such what I had learned was also valuable to the other students on the team.  Our instructor frequently had us work together in teams of four  on the written material he gave us.  Our task was to use what he was teaching us to improve upon the material's clarity for the purpose of presentation through better delivery of content.

In retrospect I think part of the lesson learned for me was also the realization that using a computer to write makes good writing less labor intensive than writing in long-hand, or typing.  Three decades ago computers were still becoming universal for personal use.  Given that my work in the preceding decades had not included much writing, I had not had occasion or opportunity to use a word processor, so I really do not know if word processing made it easier to rearrange content in the same way it is accomplished with a computer.

Another realization I had from musing about this in retrospect, was that learning to be fluent in another language, beyond grammar, vocabulary,  and spelling, is also very much about sentence structure and arrangement of sentences.  These structure and arrangement issues have been problems for me when I am learning another language. Perhaps it is the intimidating confidence problem more than anything else which some people experience when
starting to communicate in another language they are learning.  I have recognized it in friends who had the courage to try.  They appreciated whatever help others were willing to provide, having asked for corrections.  But I was not brave enough, myself, to ever reach the point of trying to communicate in another language.  However, I now know that fluency in a language is also dependent on learning from the mistakes we make when we actually have the courage to start communicate properly in the language.

More to the point, perhaps it is clear thinking in another language which determines the extent of our fluency which is also dependent on the subject matter's vocabulary and concepts.  Even in one's native language, fluency in expressing one's thoughts is dependent upon adequately learning the content of a subject about which one needs to communicate.  As always, when we  become more clearly aware of the details of what we do not know, regardless of the subject matter, it provides the way forward for learning when we apply ourselves to the task.  We can dread the process and anticipate difficulties  because of all the difficulties which could be encountered, or we can jump into the process armed for adventure with confident good humor, then enjoy the hell out of its full potential, come what may - no regrets - which becomes the joy of learning.

Good communicating, being able to understand, fluently speak and write in any language, is an art and a skill.  Knowing any language well enough to convey well constructed thoughts verbally and in writing, be it through academic papers, news reports, essays, any other genre of writing, even casual conversation, draws heavily on arrangement of content.  Excellence in communicating also includes a rhythm that produces a seamless flow.  Flow, and skillful lack of flow, both highly contribute to clearly presenting whatever information is being conveyed.  In reality, achieving fluency in any language is not easy.  Excelling in fluency, even in one's first language, does not always happen without skillful instruction and even then, it is not necessarily an ability which all develop even when one's writing  and speaking skills are more than adequate.  And in actuality it is not really an issue for many until or unless one applies oneself to fluently learning other languages.

This year as I muse upon gratitude, it seems more difficult due to a myriad of manifested difficulties from the universal to the personal, most of which I have been experiencing nearly all year long as being damagingly negative and unwarranted in limiting ways.  I am not alone in this experience, far from it; but being in good company does not make enduring the difficulties easy even though what some say about them contributes to being more tolerantly patient about them.  Even so, in rising above personal concerns associated with difficulties to make space and time for needed gratitude, it becomes clear to me that a priority I have is the need to express my gratitude to that friend  who so many years ago was instrumental in conveying knowledge I needed about how content arrangement enhances skill in communication.  It was then, and continues to be of high value to me.

Feeling gratitude and expressing it is a wonderful, empowering, and loving state of being.  However, along with feeling gratitude most have also experienced the feeling that saying "thank you", in response, is a woefully inadequate way of expressing our own gratitude; especially when musing upon how differences in our perceptions provided the potential for us to make huge long-lasting changes in our lives, and the lives of others, for good - always for good.  When we learn something of value in life, paying it forward along with gratefully giving credit where credit is due, as always, is often the best way we are able to most abundantly express our gratitude.  And in doing so we transform the feeling of being grateful into the universally beneficial positive actions of gratitude in action.