Thursday, September 5, 2013

Wasted Talents and Different Paths in Life


It is unfortunate that humans tend to value each other by their talents , capabilities, and potential, rather than on the simple fact that they are fellow human beings.
Certainly, there is an extent to which we must evaluate the actions of other people so we know whether we can trust them or not; nothing wrong with making sure a potential friend isn’t really a serial killer waiting to murder you in your sleep. But at a certain point, the evaluations we make for other people stop being for the protection of our own boundaries and start trespassing on others’ boundaries.
This kind of trespass—and the reactions to those being trespassed on—can be seen in a couple of recent episodes of this season’s anime. In Servant x Service, we have Yutaka Hasebe, a civil servant and one of the main characters, and his old friend Jouji Tanaka, who has had a very one-sided competitive relationship with him. Jouji had unsuccessfully tried to beat Yutaka at anything, and resentful of how Yutaka is better than him at everything, gives a drunken rant to Lucy about how much of a waste it is that Yutaka is only working as a mere civil servant.
And for hitting on a "plain girl" like Lucy, insulting two people for the price of one! (Art by 

ねぎた)

Meanwhile, in Silver Spoon, we have Shingo Hachiken, the older brother of the protagonist Yuugo Hachiken. Shingo is an incredibly smart and talented brother who was accepted into Tokyo University (which is the top university in Japan, requiring the highest scores on the nationwide college entrance exam for acceptance), and whom Yuugo unfortunately lives under the shadow of. However, Shingo ended up quitting the university to pursue a job as… a ramen chef (and without much success). A phone conversation later reveals that his getting into Tokyo University was entirely because his parents pressured him to get into a good school, and that as soon as he was no longer under parental control, he quit the university “to piss them off”.
Shingo, trolling over-controlling parents like a boss. (Art by BlackFoxes)

Being told that their life is a waste and being forced by others to walk a certain path in life: both are significant trespasses of personal boundaries, the first trespassing on self-worth, and the second trespassing on self-responsibility. Both are related in that when these trespasses happen, it is frequently because the person trespassed on is being valued for their talents, capabilities, and potential than for being a human.

What a Waste… Or Not
The Servant x Service example reminded me personally of something my mom told me. She had met with one of her friends, whose daughter was attending medical school. That daughter and I both attended a rather prestigious high school, and I was definitely considered an intelligent kid growing up, so this friend of my mom’s remarked that it was such a waste that I wasn’t trying to become a doctor, too.
At this point, I’m just raising my eyebrows at how stereotypically Asian this mother was being (and yes, both she and her daughter are Asian, as myself and my mom are). That said, I will admit that when I first entered college, it was with the intention of pursuing the medical path, simply because that was the path everyone seemed to expect from me given my capabilities. So when I eventually lost interest in that path, started performing poorly in the courses directly related to that path, and found interest in a different field, there was definitely some apprehension on my part. After all, it’s not like I disliked my parents’ bragging about me, and I was worried that I would make my parents look bad for not having particularly ambitious post-college plans. I would eventually grow comfortable with the path I ended up on, without worrying too much about what others thought of it. And while my mom took longer to fully accept my new path, she did say that, after her conversation with her friend, she realized that there was nothing being “wasted” in my life, and that what was most important in my life was that I find fulfillment in whatever form it came for me.
Likewise, in Servant x Service, Lucy tells Yutaka that she thinks it is fine that he is a “mere civil servant”, as she believes it is important to be able to have fun in life in one’s own ways. Now, I do not completely agree with these views—if anyone’s fun and fulfillment comes from, say, being a serial killer and murdering people in their sleep, I hope that, rather than finding fun and fulfillment, they find themselves behind bars. That said, these views do represent something that is important: realizing that the decision of your path in life is your own responsibility, and no one else’s.
With regards to our own path, that means taking ownership of the path we choose in life. We can certainly choose to go down a path suggested by others such as parents (i.e. taking over a family business), but if that is the choice we make, we cannot blame others for that choice, so long as there is a reasonable option of leaving and pursuing a different path without significant danger to one’s life.
On the other side, it means we are to be careful how we address those who are walking a path different from what we might want for them. If we exclude cases where a person is definitely walking down a path of self-destruction or destruction of others, then we must certainly avoid judging others for the path they have chosen. This is especially important if that person has a talent that you think is “wasted” by not being developed. A person might be extremely skilled at music, but if he wants to become a businessman instead of a musician, who are we to judge him? Saying to him that his musical talent is being “wasted” is like saying that we only love and accept him for being a musician, and that if he stops being a musician, we do not care about him anymore. And that is a far cry from unconditional love.
Instead, be supportive of the paths people take. This not only includes those people who are clearly heading down a path they are passionate about, but also for people who are still exploring different paths and fumbling about trying to find their way. It might not be easy to be supportive of someone like Shingo, who leaves a top-tier university to pursue something low-key and with no success. However, finding one’s path in life is a process, and one that can most definitely involve much tripping and stumbling and heading down some dead ends before settling down on a path one can devote his/her heart to. Suggesting paths is fine as long as we’re not forceful, but more importantly, simply be there to help such people process what they are discovering.
My Way or God’s Way?
For Christians, the question comes up: how does this all fit with following God and the whole concept of “not my will, but Your will be done”? God invites people to follow Him and discover what His plans for us are, promising that they are nothing but good:
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28, ESV)
This is a popular verse, but one with some important conditions attached: all things only work together for good if we love God and are called according to His purpose. If we are not doing that which is God’s purpose for us, the whole “all things work together for good” part is called off; sure, some good things may happen, but it ultimately will not be the best thing that can happen to you. (Note that “good” is not equivalent to “happy” or “wealthy”. It is simply that which is best for one’s growth as a person, even if it is painful or requires sacrifice.)
That said, God does not force anyone to follow Him and His plans. Rather, God wants us to choose to follow Him, and to internalize that choice so that those plans are ours rather than His. Another popular verse, Romans 12:2, explains how this works:
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
There are two parts to this. First is the renewal of the mind: this is the process by which we internalize a new mindset in which our desires more closely match what God desires. This is a lifelong process that involves things such as the power of the Holy Spirit, studying the word of God, and fellowship with other believers, and entire sermons can be devoted to this. The key thing here is that it’s not just following God’s plan for your life just because He said so; it is coming to a point where you yourself want to follow God’s plan more than anything.
The second part, and one that is frequently omitted when this verse is quoted, is testing and discernment. It is popular in Christian circles to portray following God’s plans as though God suddenly gives you His plan through some kind of divine communication, but while that can happen, this verse offers a different method that God is just as willing to use. He lets us test out different paths, see where each one may lead, and then lets us discern whether something good will come out of it, with the help of our renewed minds.
In other words, while God does want us to follow His plans for our lives and not try to go our own way, He is perfectly fine with our stumbling around different paths and getting lost along the way. In fact, that stumbling around is arguably every bit as much a part of God’s plans for us as is finally finding His path for us. And no matter what, He still loves us.
And while God does have “talent investment” as part of His plans (remember what happened to that one guy that just buried his talent?), it is good to remember that all talents come from God, which means that God may for any reason ask for them back, so to speak. That is to say, He may ask you not to develop a certain talent, but rather to focus on another. (He may have you go back to that original talent at some point, too.) Whatever the case, for anyone following God, there are no “wasted” talents; they may be “sacrificed”, but definitely not “wasted”.
Caring For People, Not For Their Talents
All of this comes down to caring for people as people, not for what their talents are or what they are capable of. This applies in many ways, not just in accepting the paths that people choose for themselves. There may be times when a talented member of a ministry must be asked to take a break if it clearly looks like they are overworking themselves, for instance. Whatever the case, showing that you care for a person for who he is and not for who he could be or what he can do is powerful, and not just in making that one flirty co-worker fall so hard for you that he is willing to get rid of the contacts of all the other girls on his phone.
Anyways, I share this as a more personal thing that I got from this season's shows. I myself am still trying things out and figuring out what God's will for me is, and in the process many talents of mine have been left behind, at least for the moment. I am glad, though, that I have friends that are by my side during this time, and a mother who will back me up regardless of the path I walk. And I hope that the civil servant workers of Servant x Service and the future farm people of Silver Spoon can also find that support, wherever it may come from.

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