Tag Archives: learning


Tomorrow marks for me the beginning of another semester of graduate study in mathematics.

I don’t know that I can truly call myself a “mathematician,” but I enjoy how the math dimension brings another facet to my life…alongside of writing, prayer, photography, etc.

The word “math” itself is interesting to me. For starters, in the U.K., it’s “maths”–I’m not entirely sure why, but most of the time I can catch myself and speak appropriately in this context.

Recently, I was reflecting on the word “aftermath.”

In Greek, the word “math-” refers to learning; the disciples of Jesus Christ in the New Testament were referred to as “mathetes” (sounds like: math-eh-tase)–learners. The word “polymath” refers to someone who is learned in many different fields.

To my chagrin, the word “aftermath” apparently comes from a different root, referring to the growing of crops. Aftermath then refers to a second-growth crop…in addition to the consequences or results of some occurrence.

But with my background in math, I was contemplating the idea of “aftermath” along a specific vein: what do we learn in the outcome of a particular event in life? Having come through some set of circumstances, how have we been shaped, how have we grown? Beyond the perhaps more tangible outcomes, what is the “second-growth crop” of learning that we can also receive as part of this experience?

All too often, I am more than content to just survive through a particular situation. I don’t particularly like having to handle unexpected scenarios, but when I must, I’m usually just relieved once it’s all over and I can get back to my preferred life of habit, routine, and ordinariness.

With this complacency, however, I’m often missing out on an opportunity to derive even greater benefit from my struggles. Failing to reflect, to consider the intangible results of what’s occurred, means that I’m losing the second level of benefit from my troubles.

And it’s just because I’m lazy, intellectually and spiritually slothful to the point that I’d rather not invest even more energy in figuring out what I can take away from the experience.

But it’s there. There is always an “aftermath,” always a crop of greater awareness and enhanced perspective that has been seeded and is ready to bear fruit, if only I would harvest it.

I might like to segment my life: to keep my learning primarily within my textbooks and courses, but that’s a sadly narrow road of experience to take. Investing in another realm of “homework,” to contemplate–perhaps celebrate, or grieve, or commit, or question–would afford me vastly more opportunities to expand my fields of learning beyond mathematics.

But there are no grades. No exams to prod me onward in this journey.

However, there is indeed a Teacher that I can learn from.

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Posted by on June 11, 2013 in Life


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Am I the teacher of Italy?

While traveling, I am usually keenly–and hopefully humbly–aware that I am the foreigner.

In places like East Asia, it is obvious–my looks and language create clear distinctions between me and the local residents.

But during a recent trip to Italy, the separation was not so distinct, and thus, perhaps a bit confusing.

I was somewhat flattered when local Italians came up to me asking for the time–they couldn’t tell by looking at me that I don’t speak a word of their language. They saw the watch on my wrist, and so they knew I had a resource that could help them. So they asked.

An Italian young man asked me how to signal the minibus driver to stop.

Then there was the Italian girl who couldn’t figure out how to use the bus ticket validation machine.

I was pleased to be able to help each person in their need, filling in the gaps of their understanding.

But how can I teach Italians? Of what worth is my 72 hours of experience compared to their lifetime of living in that culture?

I have discovered that being an outsider can serve to equip us to help others, but it requires coming in with the posture of a learner.

Indeed, for my own survival, I had to figure out how to signal the minibus driver and how to validate my bus ticket. Having learned these necessary skills, I could then share them with others.

But beyond being a learner (or survivalist?), the greater asset is to be a good follower.

I learned how to signal the minibus by watching someone do so before the previous stop. I learned to validate my bus ticket by letting someone else get on before me. Having observed closely, I could then replicate the activity according to my own need.

But this kind of following requires humility and patience. I have to be willing to let others crowd onto the bus before me; if I rush in, I will have no example to follow. And I have to be honest about what I don’t know, and what I need. I have to be willing to make the investment of energy and awareness in order to acquire the resources I need to go about my day.

Having acquired these new skills, with relatively minimal experience, I then have something to offer to the benefit of others…even Italians, on their home ground.

Am I the teacher of Italy? Certainly not, if that statement comes from a place of arrogance or American imperialism.

But, from the place of being a learner, a follower, I can effectively equip myself–not just to tend to my own needs–but to be available to serve others. In that respect, not only am I the teacher of Italy, but I can become the teacher of the world.


Another reflection from my trip to Italy can be found in the next post.

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Posted by on May 12, 2013 in Life


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