Teachability

A mentor told me years ago the importance of staying FAT: Faithful, Available, and Teachable. He said that more than having any amazing ability, it was important to be faithful with what I have been given, to be available to serve, and be teachable to learn.

I try to remember this now. Most of my law school classes are composed of questions and discussions. Sometimes, it can feel like the discussions are going nowhere, or that a question is totally irrelevant, or there’s no resolution at the end of class. There is a temptation to give up in frustration and disengage, to stop caring.

Yet I try to keep teachability in mind. The truth is, we are engaging in hard questions that don’t always have easy answers. Part of the journey is learning how to think through these questions, even if there’s no resolution.

Furthermore, this is good training for work. There will be plenty of times in the future when I’ll be in a room in a seemingly pointless conversation, except instead of a classroom at school, I will be in a conference with a client. Just like in class, I might be confused on what the client is trying to communicate; unlike in class, waiting until the conference is over doesn’t solve the problem. These mystifying, confusing, and sometimes mind-numbing classroom discussions are an opportunity to learn forbearance. After all, even patience takes practice; it doesn’t come quickly.

Ultimately, teachability is more than a passive amenability to learning. Teachability is not just “I’m willing to learn, but only if the information is interesting, it’s presented in an easily digestible manner, and it’s not too much work for me.” Teachability requires an investment in my end, for it is the fruit of the seed of humility, which is something I’m still learning.

The City of Stories

I met someone who came from a state on the East Coast. I asked her what it was like growing up there, and she said “Oh, it was terrible. It’s a horrible place with nothing to do. There’s nothing good about it all. Ugh.”

At first, this didn’t sit well with me. No matter how bad her experience of growing up there, I don’t believe it was truly that horrible. Moreover, it struck me as ungrateful and negative; surely there is something to be said about the stability and peace of her hometown.

Then I realized that sometimes I behave this way. When people would ask me about growing up in LA, I would complain about the shallowness, the unabashed materialism, the suburban disconnection, the lack of public transit infrastructure and enslavement to automobiles, the heat.

The truth is, LA is a very big place, with a great diversity in its neighborhoods. My experience of growing up in Granada Hills is just a fragment of the overall picture. Santa Monica, Westwood, Torrance, Compton — these are all different parts of LA that I haven’t fully experienced. The weather is nice, there are people from all over the world, great food, amazing cultural resources.

What really gave me a vision for LA was a sermon I heard by a preacher from Louisiana. He said “I love LA because it is a city of stories. More than any other city, this city is the birthplace of stories. A little boy growing up in Lima, Peru may never leave his country, yet his life will be influenced by the stories coming out of this city.” If you ask the average person in Turkey, Mongolia, or Morocco about Mark Zuckerburg or Warren Buffet or Richard Posner, they probably couldn’t tell you. But ask them about Mickey Mouse, Will Smith, or Angelina Jolie, and they would be able to tell you, or at least recognize their faces. Creativity, wonder, excitement live in LA, as do grit, disease, and malevolence.

So now when people ask me about LA, I tell them about the City of Stories, of the stories that draw people to LA, and my own story of the city in the desert that is part of my memory, my identity, my home.

Valentine’s Day, 2014

In the last few weeks, I have seen friends’ announcements on Facebook about new romantic relationships. I have watched wedding videos, scrolled through adorable couple photos and pictures of beautiful gifts, and read posts of love, affection, and thanksgiving.

As I reflect on these tender displays, I recognize a single question lurking in the back of my mind: “What about me?” I’m sure there’s many people wrestling with that thought. It is a scary and sad thing, to believe that one is alone. It can feel patently unfair to see other people in romantic bliss and see in one’s own life…nothing.

Yet a phrase that I heard weeks ago helps me maintain perspective. “That is not your story.” The key to contentment and peace is to embrace the life that I have been given. When I see someone with something that I don’t have, rather than stew in bitterness and envy, I can say “That is not your story.” As it is said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”

Truth is, there is much in my life for which I am grateful. Wonderful family, incredible opportunities, a sound mind, a strong body. My grandparents fled the chaos of the Korean war, losing many of their relatives. My parents suffered through poverty in the aftermath and had to struggle to find stability and opportunity in a foreign land. I have loving friends, I have encouraging community. Delicious food! Transcendent music! Beauty! Wonder! Enlightenment!

To all my friends who are single today, remember this: Just because you are single doesn’t mean that you are alone. Just because you are single doesn’t mean that you are unwanted. Just because you are single doesn’t mean that you are unloved. Enjoy life!

To my friends that are in a relationship: My best wishes go with you. Whether you celebrate this day or not, may all go well with your relationship. May your union be more than you could have ever dreamed, but may it never become more than it was meant to be.

Anger and Unreasonable Patience

A few years ago, I was talking with a friend about a time that I got angry. She said “Wow, Joel, I could never imagine you angry.”

I was puzzled and somewhat taken aback by her comment. I know that I am generally a very calm and cheery person. Yet I don’t want to give the impression that nothing ever upsets me. I am human, and I get angry, sometimes at rather trivial things (like crumbs on the kitchen countertop).

Still, I can’t help but wonder if my even-headed temperament is my true emotional state, or a carefully calibrated attempt to control an uncontrollable inner life. I think for a long time I have not given myself freedom to feel certain feelings because they were too painful. In so doing, I may have forgotten what I really feel and what I tell myself I should feel. Yet it is a quiet tragedy to forget the timbre of one’s emotions. I am grateful to be learning how to recognize true emotion.

Lastly, anger can be good. To paraphrase the early church father John Chrysostom: He who is angry without cause sins. He who is not angry when there is cause sins. For unreasonable patience is the hotbed of many vices.

I will dwell

People who are not familiar with the Bible may still be familiar with Psalm 23. The psalm begins “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.” It is featured in many funerals, and most people may have seen it in a movie.

One verse that I find quite striking is v. 6 — “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

I spend most of my time out of my apartment. I am usually at school or running errands. Yet even though I don’t spend the majority of my time at home, my apartment is where I dwell. When I go out of town for a few days, this place is still my dwelling. Even if I go to a distant country for months, I know that this place is still my home.

With this in mind, this verse gives me great comfort. No matter where I go, I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Even if I visit a land of sorrow and bitterness, even if I find myself in a pit of despair and self-hatred, that is not where I am meant to live. This doesn’t mean that I will be free from problems (verse 5 refers to having a table “in the presence of my enemies,” indicating there will still be trouble). Nevertheless, there is this promise of goodness and mercy to follow me through the heartaches, uncertainties, and disappointments of life.

Superpower

Someone asked me what kind of superpower I would have. My response:

“I would like the power to create negative space. I’m not too familiar with physics, so let’s just look at it conceptually. I would be able to create zones of space where nothing can pass through. Think of forcefields that keep out bullets. Now imagine extending that to sound or light. I could make a bubble space around my room to keep out all sound. If I’m distracted by someone talking too loudly, I can create a bubble space around him so that sound doesn’t get out.

I would be able to create big spaces and small spaces. If I were to use the power for evil, I could create tiny bubble spaces in the blood vessels connecting someone’s lungs to the rest of their body. No matter how hard they breathe, oxygen would not be able to get into their bloodstream. Imagine someone hyperventilating, gasping for breath, consciousness fluttering from his oxygen sapped mind.

Mostly, though, I would just use it to get some peace and quiet.”

Why I write

One of the reasons that I started writing these notes on Facebook was to declare to myself that my voice matters. I had told myself a lie for so many years that no one wants to hear what I have to say and that my perspective is useless. I remember thinking “Well, even if I had something worthwhile to say, so many other people have said it better. People have a limited amount of time, and why would they read my writings when they could read all of these other authors. I have nothing new to say.”

Yet I realized that truth has value, even when it has already been expressed. The truth of “Love your neighbor” has been reiterated countless times, yet is no less true for it. The value of truth is not solely in its novelty, for even a new expression of an old idea can be of some use.

That’s one of the reasons I started writing on Facebook, so that between the “What Type of Food are You” quizzes and incendiary political posts, I can provide something that may be of some use.