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Teaching by Example – Learner’s Journey

Robin Pan

The children of a wealthy but busy couple grew up playing in the home and company of a kind neighbour, who is a scientist and a professor, as well as a great nature lover and a vegetarian. Although the neighbour did not teach the children to love nature or be vegetarians, they were influenced by his way of life, and naturally developed the tendency to avoid eating meat. Their conviction about the value of vegetarianism became even stronger when their highly stressed father, who loved wine and meat, suffered a heart attack. During barbecues, one of the children would even avoid the meat-leaden skewers on his vegetarian burger. Whereas the children’s  father enjoyed watching football matches on TV, none of the children liked to watch TV – an influence of their neighbour who kept his unplugged TV set inside a cabinet. Their businessman father aspired that his children grew up to follow in his footsteps or become lawyers or accountants. Although some of his children initially tried to fulfil his wishes, these nature-loving children eventually followed their hearts and switched to natural sciences, biology, or medical sciences. From the traditional Chinese perspective, these children were not filial in that their behaviours did not follow that of their parents. Perhaps, their parents would ask, “Whose children do they actually belong to?” Readers, perhaps, would ask, “Who is this neighbour of the children?”

The neighbour is Dr Arthur Hubbard, who holds a doctorate in Chemistry from the California Institute of Technology. His outstanding research has made him the editor for several scientific publications – a highly coveted position in the academic circle.

His achievements do not stand in the way of his love of children. He feels that parents should wholeheartedly love their children and spend time to play with them. Developing strong bonds with their children enables parents to observe, understand, and better educate their children. Parents should allow their children to be in the company of and develop close relationships with kind people. With a good 30 years of teaching experience to his credit, Arthur feels that because parents and children are in constant contact, parents have to lead by example. If the parents want their children to be of good character, they have to be of good character themselves. In fact, parents with a passion for learning have children who generally do not do too badly in school. Perhaps, this can explain why children from uneducated parents (who missed out on education due to war or poverty) are able to achieve good academic results. It may be that these parents have a strong desire to learn but did not have the opportunity to do so; thus, their passion is passed on to their offspring.

In the opinion of Arthur, we live to learn. Life should be creative, and learning is a joyful phrase of living. He points out that there are presently some students who are not interested in learning anything; this is a kind of self-imposed punishment because learning is an experience in life.

Arthur confesses that he pursued his Ph.D. purely out of his thirst for knowledge. In fact, whatever knowledge we acquire can be beneficial to us in the future in ways that we do not anticipate. For example, he learnt draftsman ship as a student and has also been a carpenter in a building project. When he settled down in his hometown, he decided to build his own house. With a tight budget, these skills came in handy. He drew the plans and supervised the building of his dream home, personally seeing the completion of his three-acre mountainside mansion with a build-in area of 4000 square feet. This was an ambitious project in view of the stringent U.S. building regulations, which includes strict requirements on soil composition, structural safety, fire safety, utilities, etc. The successful completion of the project must be credited to his previously acquired knowledge and experience.

A lover of wildlife, Arthur was immediately interested when learnt that a wholesome non-meat diet is a compassionate act that can also improve his health. Being the scientist he is, Arthur decided to experiment with this diet immediately. The results convinced him to become a vegetarian thereon.

Aa a nature lover, Arthur is able to locate a sea lion from its smell while he is sitting on a cliff hundreds of feet above the sea level. When you ask him to identify a flower, he will get down on his knees to smell the flower, and then tell you that it is a violet.

From him, we can see that a scientific researcher does not need to be void of feelings. If a scientist is brutal and an enemy of nature, then science will take mankind onto the road towards total destruction. On the other hand, if all scientists have open minds and love nature, then science would bring great benefits to mankind.

From him, we can also see that a chemist can also do the work of an architect as well as that of a civil engineer. Thus, if one is open-minded, willing to learn and do, then the path to greater knowledge will be a smooth ride; anything is possible.

When asked about his religion belief, the scientist remarked that he once saw the following words on the sticker of a car in front of him: “My religion is kindness”. And he completely agrees with it. He then goes on to share an interesting story about a relative that he greatly respected.

This relative is a carpenter who, just before his retirement, settled down in a small town because he loved the atmosphere in small towns. Later, a merchant wanted to open a shop to sell liquor in the vicinity despite strong objections from the residents. The authorities evaded the issue. The residents felt that the only way out was to apply for autonomous governance where the town mayor would be able to independently make decisions to the benefit of the residents. The residents requested this relative to become their mayor, and he agreed. After retirement, he helped out as a counsellor in a hospital. Arthur says that his relative does not have any specific religious beliefs; however, we can see that his religion is compassion.

From this story, we can see that a person without any religious beliefs is able to exemplify the principles of selfless compassion. This story also serves as a reminder to those who profess to practice a religion aimed at salvation for all beings, and suggests the following questions for us to ponder over: “Do we practice what we say? Are our actions consistent with compassion? Do we denigrate other religions? Or, denigrate other sects within our religion? Do we really practice compassion in our actions, and lead all to a joyous, peaceful future?”