A good few years ago, I had the pleasure of teaching English to a really motivated and positive Chinese student. This young man was a lover of new words and their nuances as well as the customs and general quirks of his new surroundings.
It was Shrove Tuesday and he came in, full of wonder and questions about pancakes. The discussion led on to Lent and its religious meaning and tradition of giving something up for the 40 day period and how it was commonplace to do this, even in the most secular circles.
Now, this student was almost surgically attached to his electronic Chinese-English dictionary, which he insisted on consulting, even when having apparently understood the explanation of new words. It had become a joke between us that he was addicted to his dictionary, so I was surprised and delighted when he announced that he would give up using it in lessons for Lent. He promptly placed the dictionary in his bag and we got on with the rest of our lesson.
A couple of days later, I met up with a good friend for lunch. He happens to be an eminent clergyman who sits on the Bishops Council (as well as a very good conversationalist with an unrivalled stock of rude jokes). We chatted away as we ate lunch, which culminated in two large slices of a decadent chocolate cake. As we were finishing the last mouthfuls of the cake, I laughingly confessed that I’d given up chocolate for Lent, to which he replied that he had too and we had a conspiratorial giggle.
After lunch, I had another lesson with my Chinese student. At one point, I was struggling to come up with an understandable explanation of a tricky word he’d come across, so I suggested he look it up in his dictionary. He looked at me, rather puzzled, and simply said ‘but I’ve given up using the dictionary for Lent’. The taste of the chocolate cake was still in my mouth.
It really struck me that day that the person with the least obvious ‘investment’ in the Lenten tradition was the one who was the most committed. This isn’t meant to be a post about austerity or religious values – it’s about commitment to a decision and making it yours. My reasons for giving something up for Lent were vaguely churchy, but mostly because people had asked me what I was going to give up for Lent this year so I picked one of the usuals. My friend had more religious reasons, but still the ‘giving up’ is more a tradition than an obligation within the Church. Both of us had decided to give something up in an ‘I suppose I should’ sort of a way. In short, we were obviously not committed!
My student had decided to give up using his dictionary, despite being non-Christian and not having been brought up in a Christian-ised secular society which observes the pancakes-and-giving-something-up tradition. There was no ‘should’ with him – he made his decision out of a desire to embrace the culture in his host country. He wanted to do it.
Sometimes, the very fact you have done something before, maybe time and again, seems like a reason to do it again. Look at your decision to do something – be it giving something up for Lent, embarking on a new exercise regime or going for a promotion – and take a fresh angle on it. Are there any ‘shoulds’ in play here? Where do they come from? What would make you genuinely want to take this action? Find your motivation – whatever it may be – and really feel it before committing. Watch your results change!
Having trouble committing to something? Call me!