[Two Mentors, Two Styles, and the Multifarious World]
Two Mentors, Two Styles,
And the Multifarious World
By Xie Bangxiu (Wuhan China)
I often feel thankful to life and to the world where I live, because on the journey of my lifelong learning, I’m lucky enough to have met several mentors. In different periods of my life, they tended to lead me into some new world in a timely way, when I was wandering and puzzled at different crossroads, at different moments. I can hardly convey all my gratitude to them with words, especially when I am with them face to face. But I really want to reveal such grateful feelings of mine, so I sit down in front of my dear computer and begin to type them out with my fingers…
First I want very much to say thanks to 2 of my mentors, as a contrasting pair in my learning life. They are very different from each other, but at the same time, they are closely co-related. One is in Harbin, Heilongjiang, China, the other is in Conway, Arkansas, in the United States; one is a master of the Chinese language, the other is a master of the English language; one is rooted in Chinese culture, the other is rooted in Western (American) culture; one is an expert in education, the other is an expert in theology and philosophy; one appears very serious and strict with his students in class, the other appears easygoing and encouraging while giving lectures…
But contrasts do not necessarily mean conflicts. On one occasion, the two men from two different Continents met with each other because of their common interest in Whitehead and process thought. In fact, in my eyes, despite their sharp differences as mentioned above, they share so much in common: They both are responsible scholars, creative educators, profound thinkers of big questions (life and death, truth and wisdom, creativity and freedom, etc.), persistent seekers for the meaning of life, and upright individuals. They both have a heart filled with love, though their love is sometimes expressed in different ways. They both believe in goodness and have a sense of others, trying to do good to others: other individuals, other nations, other living beings…
I feel lucky to have encountered the Chinese mentor --- Professor Zhao Heling from Harbin Normal University --- at the gate of educational studies over 10 years ago, when I was a young teacher seeking for theoretical support from educational theories, but at a loss whether and how to get into the gate and where to go. It was Prof. Zhao who opened the door for me and patiently led me into the theoretical world of education. Considering that I was a beginning learner in educational theories, he simply suggested a list of books, left me alone to read, and expected me to hand in some reflections on what I’ve read. I felt free to swim in the river of educational works home and abroad, and to relate the theories with my own experiences in teaching English. I cherished such freedom a lot, and I have benefited so much from it. And whenever I seemed to be drowned in the river, had difficulty in understanding some of the ideas in the various educational theories, or lost patience or confidence in going on, I could reach for a lending hand and support from Prof. Zhao in time. He was, and is, so kind to me, precisely speaking not only to me, but to all his students, that he would try every means to help me, as well as them, to go through the difficulties in learning as well as in living.
But I, like some other students of his, managed to understand and feel the interior kindness, warmness, carefulness and sincerity in his love for me through a long time. He is calm, serious and silent at first sight. He believes in actions more than words, so he does more than speaks, and expects his students to do likewise. He is stern and strict with himself and with his students in learning, and is very serious when giving lectures. He seldom offers face-to-face compliment, encouragement, or appreciation to students. He keeps urging students to read more and think further… All these made me feel a wide distance between him and me.
Except for one occasional visit to his home, and seeing another totally different him --- a warm-hearted, easygoing, humorous, appreciating and happy man at home in everyday living -- I may never have know this side of him. On that occasion, he was quite a considerate host, and I felt so at home that I forgot his sternness in class and talked with him freely. We talked for a long time, and began to know each other more and better. Since then, we often talk together and get to share more and more in common, becoming not only teacher and student, but also close friends, respecting each other, though sometimes when talking about some issues, we could sharply disagree with each other so that we both might feel very unhappy at the moment.
Then, when I felt like learning further, it was he, Professor Zhao, who led and even accompanied me to the gate of philosophy, and urging me to knock at the door of process thoughts. This time, the person who opened the door of process thought for me and tenderly led me in was, and is, my American mentor --- Professor Jay McDaniel from Hendrix College.
The first time I saw Jay was in a very formal situation, when he was invited to the Educational School of Harbin Normal University to give a lecture on process philosophy, and according to Professor Zhao’s arrangement, I was to help as a translator, helping to interpret when necessary between Jay and Professor Zhao and other teachers and students present, while I myself was merely a beginning learner of the process thoughts, nearly knowing nothing about it. Considering my task, considering my own limitations in this area, considering Professor Zhao’s seriousness, considering the severeness and even mysteriousness of the topic, considering the formalness of the situation, and considering the strangeness with an unfamiliar American philosophical scholar, I was so pressed and nervous while waiting for the occasion to come that I even felt like escaping from the meeting room.
However, as soon as we (Jay and I) met with each other and had a few minutes of chatting, I felt much better. He was not alone, but accompanied by an interpreter, and this made me greatly relieved. And his way of talking, his attentiveness while listening, his encouraging eye contacts, his soft voice and warm smile while talking, all these made me feel relaxed and comfortable. It turned out that we did have a wonderful time by co-working for the first time, and I did manage to offer some necessary help in communication during the process of the lecture. After the lecture, I felt we already became friends. And on the way to have dinner, we went under the same umbrella, held by Jay, for it was raining heavily.
Yes, ever since, on my way of learning process thought, whenever I encounter(ed) tough weather, I can safely choose to walk under the umbrella held by Jay, feeling protected from the rains, snows, or even storms in the process of my learning and understanding Whiteheadian ideas. Although we actually seldom met with each other face to face, altogether only for three times, thanks to the Internet, we never lack approaches to communicating with each other effectively, heartily, and comfortably.
If Prof. Zhao’s urging and sternness are a profound love of a stern teacher, working as a whip behind me when I feel self-satisfied or lazy on my journey of lifelong learning, driving me out of the comfortable place(s); then Jay’s soft voice, encouraging eyes and attentive ears serve as a healing when I feel hurt, and as a comfort and support when I feel frustrated or lack of self-confidence on my way to the Whiteheadian home.
I need both and I love both.
Response from Jay McDaniel
It is an honor for me to be considered a mentor to Xie Bangxiu.
All teachers know that, in some way, they are mentored by their students, too. We may be mentored by their ideas, and we are mentored by their attitudes, their diligence, their sincerity, their respect, and their creativity. Certainly I am mentored in this way by my colleague, Xie Bangxiu. And I have been mentored by her professor and my friend, Professor Zhao in Harbin. I well remember meals with him, learning from him about Chinese philosophy and thought. He is my teacher.
To the nice tribute from Xie Bangxiu, I must add one more idea that can be important to those of us inspired by Whitehead. I know it is one with which Xie Bangxiu will agree. It is that life itself is a mentor, too, and we never cease to learn from this mentor.
Sometimes life is stern and tough, sometimes gentle and mild, and often they are mixed together. It is a serious mistake to think that goodness comes only from sternness or from gentles. It is better to realize that in sternness, too, there is a kind of encouragement. We Whiteheadians call it trust in the availability of fresh possibilities or “faith.”
In Part Five of Process and Reality there is a very famous line, where Whitehead is talking about what he calls the “multifariousness of world.” He puts it this way:
Philosophy may not neglect the multifariousness of the world — the fairies dance, and Christ Is nailed to the cross.
The phrase is a lure for feeling, with many meanings. But one thing it means is that there is a soft and delightfully gentle and playful side to life: the fairies dance. And that there is a harder side to life: Christ is nailed to the cross. Knowing Professor Zhao, I am well aware of some “dancing fairies” inside him. And I am quite aware that people have crosses to bear – tensions to face -- and that some of them are in fact more productive than dancing. The process of poetics seeks wisdom from both sides of life, allowing life itself to be a teacher. We teachers – Xie Bangxiu, Professor Zhao, and I as well – call this continuing education. It never ends. It is at the heart of what we mean by poetics in this website: the process of seeking wisdom in daily life, even from life itself.