Author: 林兴陆 | Created: 2019-03-29
I have been teaching English to secondary-school students in Beijing for over a year now, and I always notice how practical my students are.
“Which university would you like to go ?” I may ask.
“I don’t know, and I’m not thinking about it right now,” the student typically replies.
“I’ll take the national university entrance exam, and then after I get my score I’ll decide which universities to apply to.”
“Don’t you have any dreams?” I ask.
“Why dream?” the student will reply, shrugging his or her shoulders.
I am currently teaching at Beijing Secondary School Number 4, one of Beijing’s best schools, and my students are some of the city’s brightest. I was educated at a good high school in Toronto and then went on to university at Yale, so all my life I have been surrounded by talented and diligent students. It seems to me that the most striking difference between the best Chinese students and the best North American students is the nature of the goals they adopt.
For the Chinese student, goals must be practical and short-term. Pursuing these goals of guaranteed feasibility, the Chinese student lives a steady life, sailing smoothly to success on a sure though arduous course. For the North American student, goals are wild, spontaneous and ultimately romantic dreams, so outrageously distant and impossible to achieve that other people would probably mock him for having them in the first place. But it is the greatness of the dream, even its seeming impossibility, that endows the young North American with passion - a passion that leads him constantly to augment his abilities.
对中国学生来说，目标必须是现实的，是短期可实现的。通过追求肯定可以实现的目标，中国学生过着风平浪静的生活，尽管艰苦劳碌，但他们沿着一条确定的轨迹平稳地驶向成功的彼岸。对北美学生来说，其目标是狂放不羁、出于本能的美梦，归根结蒂是富于浪漫色彩的美梦。实现这样的梦想遥遥无期、希望渺茫，可能在梦想初露端倪时就遭到别人的嘲笑。但这正是梦想的可贵之处，即使它看上去不可能实现，但它却赋予北美的年轻人以激情 - 一种引导他们锲而不舍地增进自身能力的激情。
Chinese practicality too often leads the best and brightest Chinese to a life of comfortable mediocrity, while Western romanticism propels North Americans to lives of disastrous failure or epic achievement.
I am young, but I believe my own life has so brimmed over with stories of failure and success that I am in a position to question the wisdom of Chinese practicality.
As a Chinese immigrant growing up in Toronto, I lived in poverty and struggled to master English. In high school I had a great dream: to attend Yale, one of the world’s best universities. My parents said that I was too poor, my teachers said that I was not bright enough. I agreed with them, yet simultaneously felt that if I struggled, if I worked diligently, then I could make it to Yale. The dream gave passion and meaning to my life, and motivated me to read books that I could not at first understand, to get involved in activities at which I was not adept, to try things that I had never tried before.
In the end, my dream came true.
After graduating from Yale, I came here to Beijing to tell students to have their own dreams and to follow them. I succeed with a few students: One girl impressed me by confiding that she wanted to be the secretary general of the United Nations one day. But I fail with most students. I remember the one who told me, “My dream is to have a dream someday.”
“You don’t understand the situation in China,” these teenagers often remark. “China is poor, so we can’t think about what we really want to do, only about what will make money.”
“But if that’s your attitude and the attitude of Chinese society as a whole,” I reply, “then China will never produce any great writers, any great scientists, any person who contributes astonishing new things to society. China is filled with talented people, but they need a romantic passion to become great. If you’re too realistic and care only for a life of happiness and comfort, then you’re throwing your talent away.”
“But even if we were to have dreams, our parents and our society would never allow us to pursue our dreams; they would insist that we be practical.”
“Every dreamer has to defy conventional society, and only a few can really be dreamers.”
“Then I won’t be one of the few,” they reply.
But I am neither disappointed nor depressed by these failures because, paradoxically, I know my dream is an “impossible” dream. I want my students to want to live, to have a dream and to let it fill them too with a passion for life - to contribute to society and to endear themselves to their community. This is a dream, and only dreams can make life worth struggling through to the end. Possessed by such a dream, I will undoubtedly fail, but it will be a happy failure. It is only by failing that one knows one is truly alive.
对我的失败，我既不失望，也不悲伤。似乎矛盾的是，我知道我的梦想是“不可能”的梦想。我希望我的所有学生都拥有生活的热望，拥有梦想并用梦想去点燃生命的激情 - 贡献于社会并为周围的人所喜爱。这只是一个梦想，只有梦想才值得为之奋斗终生。拥有这样的梦想，我无疑会失败，但却是快乐的失败，因为只有通过失败，人们才知道自己活得实实在在。