Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Won't Miss #530 - sublimating my opinions

During the many goodbye gatherings that I took part in as I was preparing to leave Japan, I went out to dinner with two of my students who are sisters. During this meal, one of them said to me that she realized that the teacher me wasn't the real me. It was only at this little goodbye that she realized there was a whole other person who she had no exposure to.

One of the things I decided when I came back to America was that I was finished with my "teacher" persona. That is, a persona that was utterly dedicated at every moment of interaction to meeting the needs of the other person and never fulfilled my needs. Most people who teach in Japan do not do this, but it was one of the reasons why I was such a popular and "good" teacher. When you do that, you sublimate your own desires to say what you want to say almost entirely and only make counter-points in the most gentle and roundabout way. This is a very effective way to manage Japanese people when you are a foreigner because they are already a little intimidated by dealing with you in a second language and by the fact that you're a foreigner.

The truth is that not expressing an opinion was not and has never been my true character. I learned a lot about self-control in Japan and was grateful for the mastery I obtained as a result of developing an appropriate manner for optimizing the learning experience for Japanese students. While I consider it valuable personal training and something that I can tap into when necessary here at home, I don't miss the almost total sublimation of my thoughts and opinions that were part of my regular work in Japan. 


  1. Ah, yes. I, too, was very selective about expressing my true self when I lived and worked in Japan. It made for a much better 'fit' into the culture as well as smoother relations with students, fellow Japanese teachers, and one's boss.

    It was also one of the reason, however, why I realized after being there for about a year or so that I could not/would not become a long term, permanent resident. It is a set of skills/mindset, however, which I can employ on occasion to make things go more smoothly here in the USA as well.

    1. I can very much see how this would make you decide not to become a permanent resident (among other reasons, I'm sure). This was one of those cases where I think there should be a "happy medium" in which people show discretion at times and express themselves at others and that I have found myself frequently in one cultural extreme or another. Japan required a lot of sublimation. Americans don't censor themselves at all because they "have to" say what they're thinking. There are degrees, and, as you seem to have learned, you can employ those skills here on occasion when you need them. I wish more people had that capacity!


Comments are moderated and will not show up immediately. If you want to make sure that your comment survives moderation, be respectful. Pretend you're giving feedback to your boss and would like a raise when you're speaking. Comments that reflect anger or a bad attitude on the part of the poster will not be posted. I strongly recommend reading the posts "What This Blog Is and Is Not" and "Why There Were No Comments" (in the sidebar under "FYI") before commenting.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.