Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.
— Leonardo da Vinci.
Many of us walked to this spot to take pictures. When we got there, for a couple of seconds, we forgot what we were supposed to do. That silence was unforgettable.
(I wish I were taller. I asked my husband to lift me so I could take a better photo. I guess I was heavier than I thought 😉
We were taught to obey authority figures like our teachers. When we saw our teachers in hallways, we would respectfully bow to them.
When I was senior in high school, one day after receiving the exam paper back from my Chinese teacher, I noticed that she had deducted several points from one of my answers.
We were asked to use the modern Chinese language (白話文) to rewrite a classical-Chinese paragraph (文言文). I asked my teacher what I did wrong. She said she didn’t think I had translated the paragraph correctly.
When I told one of my classmates what had happened. She said she, too, had translated the paragraph like I did and lost several points.
“But, that was how she taught us,” my classmate said. She then showed me the class note she had taken. Sure enough, word by word, we translated the paragraph like we were taught.
I showed my teacher my classmate’s note. My teacher said, “That wasn’t what I said.”
I knew my classmate and I were right that our teacher did teach us to translate the paragraph as we did. At the same time, I knew very well that we couldn’t win the battle (wish I had an iPhone at that time so we could video tape…). I calmly walked away. In a strange way, I wasn’t bothered by this at all. I guess when you are sure that you are right, you really don’t care what others think.
When I arrived home that day, I saw my sister Karin sitting by her desk. I told Karin what had happened and asked, “Who do you think has the right translation? My teacher or me?”
Knowing the fact that how easy it is for us to blindly trust our teachers, I switched my teacher’s new translation with mine (which was her previous translation).
Karin thought for a while, and said, “I think your teacher is right.”
“Ah-ha, I knew I was right.”
“Wait a second, I said I agreed with your teacher!”
“Well, I knew you would take TEACHER’s side, so I had switched our translations around. There!” I said, smiling big. I didn’t blame Karin. Even then, I understood how easy it was to agree with those authority figures.
In my life, I have been called weak. I may not be brave, but I‘m not weak. Many times, I choose to remain silent because I know how easy it is for any of us to make a mistake. I understand very well that none of us is perfect. And it is that understanding, quite often, keeps me quiet.
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