Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Thursday, March 05, 2020

It's All Training

One of the reasons many of us study martial arts is to build character. It just doesn't happen on the dojo floor, but in everything we do. It's all training.

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at The Art of Manliness, about how we can develop our character through the conversations we hold. The full post may be read here.

Much has been said as to how a technology-driven reduction in our face-to-face interactions may be negatively impacting our physical health and mental happiness. In the absence of strong relationships, anxiety, depression, and likely certain diseases as well, have been on the upswing.
While the negative psychological and physiological effects which result from the loss of face-to-face conversation are worthy of continual cognizance, this trend begets another deleterious impact which goes overlooked: a diminishment in character.
While we often think of character as something that’s exclusively forged, if not in big crises, than in decisions with clear moral weight, it can in fact be developed in any of our ordinary, everyday activities. How we carry out everything we do, radiates effects both outwardly and inwardly. While this is true of any habit, it is particularly true of conversation. In fact, given its daily accessibility, its repeatability — allowing for practice, correction, refinement — and the numerous, varied virtues it calls upon and exercises, face-to-face conversation constitutes one of the best ways of training the human soul.  
Below we illuminate the many qualities of character that can be built through active, effortful participation in conversation:


The behaviors we must summon to engage in a conversation happen with so little conscious awareness, that it can be easy to miss the extent to which they require strenuous self-control.
We must check our body language and facial expressions, demonstrating interest and friendliness, and avoiding eye rolls, inappropriate looks of shock, disgust, or boredom, and postures that read as closed-off, nervous, or defensive. We must watch what we say, abstaining from non-sequiturs, excessive negativity and complaints, gossip, and inadvertent insults to the person to whom we are speaking and those they know. We must keep ourselves from saying things that are thoughtless, whether literally, as in devoid of meaning, or in the sense of wounding another’s feelings. We must listen attentively and react appropriately to what the other person says, trying to hit the right tone and content in our responses. We must choose our words carefully, articulate them well, and talk neither too fast nor too slow.
All in all, a good conversation takes a tremendous amount of mental discipline! (Which is why, whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, you can feel quite fatigued after a night of socializing.) 

On the path to self-mastery, face-to-face dialogues are an underrated tool.


Conversation is a singular exercise in being present in the moment. To engage it fully you must shut down the distractions of the outside world and disentangle from devices. To listen attentively to another, you must continually bring the mind back to the present each time it wanders. You must commit to the idea that there is nowhere else you’d rather be, than right there, right then, with this other person.

A Bias Towards Effort and Action

It’s easy to be the person who waits for others to make the first move, who hopes someone else will come up and start talking to him. It’s easy too, especially in a group, to hang back, only half-listening, and let others do the conversational heavy lifting — to let others introduce all the topics and think of questions to ask.
We sometimes excuse these passive behaviors as shyness or introversion, when really they are the hallmarks of passivity or outright laziness. E.g., we say we can’t remember what someone told us about X because we have a poor memory, when in truth, we actually didn’t listen well enough.
A good conversationalist isn’t idle or inert; he’s an initiative taker. He realizes that like any other worthwhile endeavor, conversation takes work. Rather than waiting for a great discussion to happen, he sets one in motion and injects the energy that keeps it going.

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