I have learnt silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet strange, I am ungrateful to these teachers.
— Kahlil Gibran
Kahlil Gibran was a Lebanese American artist, poet, and writer best known for his book The Prophet. Since it was first published in 1923, The Prophet has never been out of print. Having been translated into more than 20 languages, it was one of the bestselling books of the twentieth century in the United States.
Through these words, Gibran is reminding us of one of the greatest paradoxes of life: opposites exist to define each other.
Polarities such as sadness/joy, silence/noise, compassion/apathy, and success/failure exist in pairs because, together they make a whole. It’s impossible for one to exist without the other. On its own, it would lose all meaning. If we can understand and accept that all pain in our life exists for a reason—to give us an opportunity to experience and understand the exact opposite sentiment of pleasure, we would live a more fulfilled life. The stings of life will hurt less when we know that they serve an important purpose.
But Gibran is reflecting on how we tend to forget this unalterable fact and condemn the ‘wrongs’ we encounter. We are quick to point a finger at those who are unkind, intolerant or talkative, forgetting that it is because of them that we learn to value kindness, tolerance and silence. He is telling us to accept existence in its totality, with the good, and the bad. In pondering about his ungratefulness to these ‘teachers’, he gently prods us to remain grateful to life’s challenges by viewing them as teachers.
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