Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness
秋天， 一个高贵深邃的时节。 2019秋， 川外出国培训部迎来了新一批的 全日制“国家公派出国留学高级英语培训班”学员和贵阳市委组织部选派的人才培养“对外开放能力提升班”学员，他们来自全国28所高校、科研单位及贵阳市各级公务部门。带着对川外的信任与期待，与可爱的老师们一起组建了这个充满活力的学习大社区。 有效提升学员的跨文化交际能力与全球变通力是是川外出国培训部自1979年成立以来的崇高使命，为此， 我们的老师们年复一年，辛勤耕耘，只为尽心于这份责任，不负育人之荣耀。让我们一起重温Robin 老师的开学感言, 一起建构我们的2019秋之学习记忆。
About two weeks ago, I was sitting in that garden in Toronto... looking around in that breezy air for these words. My buddy Jeffrey’s garden is just the right place to be in search of words. You could spend weeks in his stacks looking for sparks of ideas; you could trip through armloads of his books, stuffing yourself with them, and still have leftovers. That day, a pile of books left out for me by the in-house librarian himself included one titled, “As they say in Zanzibar... Proverbial Wisdom from Around the World”, compiled by David Crystal.
It’s an excellent sort of book to sit with in a back garden. If you have an hour or so to skim and skip through the pages as I did, something may catch your attention. So, I was there thinking about today. I was thinking about how soon I would fly back to my life in China, then a few days later – get myself here this morning, and attempt to share something useful with all of you
On that train of thought, I came across proverbs on the subject of candles & lanterns. I began with the first proverb, attributed to China,“Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”I thought about that for a while. That darkness is what we don’t know, can’t see or can’t see clearly. With neither perception nor understanding, to be “in the dark” feels more often isolating – perilous even.
My travels this summer took me to quite a few wilder places in Canada. In the woods, north of the north shore of the great Lake Huron, the dark holds a lot more sway. Take a few steps away from the firepit and the dark swallows you up. Shadowing a stone or branch lying in wait to trip you on the path to bed, you might well curse such deep darkness! Lighting a candle (or a cell phone torch!) is very good advice in such places. It seemed to me then –and still does now– this is especially good advice worth sharing with all of you this morning, so permit me to repeat, “Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”
Brushing away the dust from so many different roads winding together to meet here this morning, I’d say we are gathered to light a candle. Shedding fresh light on what we can’t yet see clearly to continue the discovery of what we don’t yet know – surely this is the reason we have come together.
Back in that garden, a bit further down the page I was caught and paused again. Another Chinese proverb read, “Every day cannot be a feast of lanterns.”
So, my train of thought carried on down that track.I thought about how there are times and very challenging lengths of time where we all must get by in dim light.We do the best we can with what we have in hand, and we try to keep in mind that dim light also gives way to the sunrise and the long stretch of daylight. Being alone with one candle is never easy, so we pool our efforts and energies whenever opportunity permits.
As you say in China, ‘Every day cannot be a feast of lanterns.’ so we may move forward a bit more slowly on those days.We can be patient with ourselves in dim light if we understand that missteps in the shadows are the natural course of finding our way; mistakes are also our teachers.
The last of these that caught my attention attributes to England, “Look at the light, not at the lantern.”
The light is what reveals, not the source.Brought together for now to share our insights and make good use of our mistakes and missteps, we are a magnificent feast of lanterns, but I think it is the light we make that points the way forward – not ourselves. Look directly at a lantern or the sun and see how the brightest light at the source obscures everything around it; you see nothing but the light. So, we are advised to look where the light falls instead.Look where the light pours out into the dark if you want to see what is illuminated by it.
Any proverb’s persistence through time illustrates all this perfectly well. If as they say, there is nothing new under the sun, then we need not curse the darkness.We know our ancestors muddled their way through dim and dark; much of the light guiding us was theirs. Their observations and advice reach us here ages later because they still reveal what lies hidden to every newcomer on this old road.Our elders understood that getting by in dim light is part of the work, that every day cannot be a feast of lanterns.“Look at the light,” they say, “not at the lantern.” Their lanterns went dim centuries ago, but their light remains.
So may it be said one day of us gathered here this morning – that we each laboured to play our own peaceful and constructive part in the international community such that though our lanterns dimmed in time – as all lanterns must, the light from our efforts continued and continues. May what light we make here and wherever we go from here shine on long after we have become anonymous – like those first authors of so many ancient proverbs – still guiding those inheritors of the future that we cannot see from here.