One of the first stories I learned in rabbinic school was told to me by my teacher, Michael Marmur. He said that in every conversation, there are two angels--an angel of winning and an angel of learning. But here's the thing; only one angel can stay in the conversation at any given time. It's up to the participants to decide--for each of us to decide--do we want to win or learn?
I don't know that I've fully absorbed the lesson of this story for my own self. I know that I've struggled with it since I first heard it more than 15 years ago. It's hard to put aside winning however we understand it--not looking foolish, success (or at least looking successful), nourishing our own egos at the cost of everything and everyone else, focusing too much on the short term goal at the expense of the long term relationship, etc. More than that, it's hard to embrace learning--not just the mastery of skills or showing a certain facility with bits of data--how many Seinfeld episodes can you quote? Can you play the ukulele?--but the deep, transformative work of learning. Real learning is as much about your own self: admitting that you were wrong and letting that wrongness change your own outlook and perspective to see what is right (as opposed to 'admitting that you got it wrong' but not really changing the self or behavior). It's about exposing yourself to other ideas and listening deeply to yourself as you process them. Real learning means understanding the self--our wants, needs, anxieties, loves, histories--in order to understand the Other.
A new year, a new set of conversations. Which angel would you like in the conversation?