您现在的位置: Language Tips> Columnist> Zhang Xin  

It's my fault - a lesson from penguins
Let's further examine the moral of Portia Nelson's autobiography in five short chapters.
[ 2006-07-13 17:09 ]

It's my fault - a lesson from penguins

Today, let's further examine the moral of Portia Nelson's autobiography in five short chapters (continued from Monday's column).

The moral of that story is, as I said before, "it's my fault". This is a lesson for life, something very few people are able to see.

Actually, the lesson is two-fold. First, this is not a perfect world. Second, it's my fault.

The first point is easy to establish. Everybody knows that this world isn't perfect. Otherwise, there won't be wars, violence, cursing a fellow player in a soccer match.

The second point - that it's my fault - is something more difficult to establish with you, I know. But that's what I'm going to do.

We've heard of complaints (I know I made my fair share of them myself) about everything. People say, for example, that they have failed to excel academically because their schools have the worst teachers. Some say they can't succeed because their bosses favor someone else. People who are born with a silver spoon in their mouth blame their parents for having provided them with everything, thus depriving them of a rags-to-riches move above the ladders, and vice versa. And we've all heard of this lame excuse for missing an appointment - traffic!

One story has it that when a speaker complains at a lecture that he had an unhappy childhood because his parents always favored his sister, many listeners concurred, one man speaking loudly that "it happened to me, too".

"But you don't have a girl in your family", a bewildered acquaintance sitting next to that man pointed out. To this, the man calmly replied: "But they (his parents) always wanted one."

That, in a nutshell, says it all - there is a blame culture in the world of unhappy people. They blame it on the government, employers, fellow employees, parents, spouses, schoolmates, teachers, neighbors, strangers or what have you, anyone except themselves.

On the surface, to lay the blame on the circumstances seems a legitimate case. Some Africans, I presume, blame the sun for being too hot. Siberians may moan that it's too cold where they eke out a living. Scandinavians have every right to whine that summer days are too long, just so that they then, I guess, can wail that winter days are too short. And I'm absolutely positive we Chinese blame our failures on everything.

However if you look at the matter closely, you will see that the blame game - blaming it on others (whatever they are and however legitimate a case) - is often the very cause for failure. That it's not my fault is a losing formula, if you will, for personal failure.

Let's take the emperor penguins from Antarctica for example. I know, but you can't have a more legitimate complaint to make about the environment than the flightless chubby birds from the South Pole can have to make.

The emperor is the only animal that spends winter on the Antarctic continent. During the harshest days, it is dark 24 hours a day with temperatures dropping to -60 degrees Centigrade and with whipping winds of up to 200 kilometers an hour.

In the early days, I assume, the penguins caught cold too. They sneezed, wheezed and coughed. Some may have died from the cold like people dropping one by one of a galloping consumption (pulmonary tuberculosis) before they came to grips with the situation.

But, penguins never complained. At least it looks that way, observing from the graceful manner in which they go about their daily business today.

Instead, the penguins got a grip on themselves, knuckled down, huddled together, made the adjustments and lived with cold. And lived with it they did. Today, not only do they breed and raise their young in the harshest winter months, they have made many amazing adaptations to counter the cold.

"Nature has provided the emperor with excellent insulation in the form of four layers of scale-like feathers that not even a blizzard can disorganize. They have a very small bill and flippers which conserve heat. Their nasal chambers also recover much of the heat that is normally lost during exhalation. Emperor penguins have large reserves of energy-giving body fat and a low level of activity during winter. They are also very social creatures, and one of their survival mechanisms is an urge to huddle together to keep warm. This huddling instinct means that they do not defend any territory. The emperor penguin is the only species of penguin that is not territorial.

"Another special adaptation of the emperor penguin is the ability to 'recycle' its own body heat. The emperor's arteries and veins lie close together so that blood is pre-cooled on the way to the bird's feet, wings and bill and warmed on the way back to the heart" - (Emperor penguins: Winter survivors, http://www.aad.gov.au. AAD stands for Australian Antarctic Agency, Australia's leading Antarctic program, an agency of the Department of the Environment and Heritage).

More over, the male emperor is able to endure a foodless ordeal of nearly four months (115 days, according to ADD research), "during which he courts, mates and incubates an egg without eating a single meal".

The emperor is able to do this, I think, because they are wise enough to expend their vital energy only on making adjustments to the harsh conditions, instead of on picking faults, making excuses and feeling sorry for themselves.

There are human examples of triumph over adversity, of course. But humans being humans, they seldom outsmart the penguins in terms of following not only social laws (the emperors give up their individual egos and became less territorial) but the higher laws of nature and never straying from the Tao.

If humans learn from the penguins, they'll do better the next time a hole appears in their sidewalk, coming back to Nelson once again.

Any situation you find yourself in is what is. And what is is. Your job is to take everything in as it is and move from there rather than to worry about what should have been, could have been or would have been. Your job is to take the responsibility and make a move because you can succeed starting afresh from now. You always can, no matter how dire the situation may be.

Actually, to be fair, it's not really your fault whenever a hole happens to be in your sidewalk. A lot could have happened before you come onto the scene (equally, an argument could be made that you are responsible for everything that happens to you, which topic we'll tackle some other day).

So don't blame anyone for anything. Don't even blame yourself. Just make whatever adjustments necessary and move on.

If you absolutely have to blame someone, however, you can blame yourself rather than anyone else. For practical reasons, this is simply a better strategy to adopt.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

相关文章 Related Story
The Week Sept 17, 2010
Launch pad for Apple in China
Funny lines about getting married