Is Learning Selfish?

At lunchtime, Andrew could sense something monumental. They would be having dumplings for dinner. An enormous bowl of sweet potato and squash filling in the kitchen confirmed this. At the request of his Mother, who was many miles away, he returned to the kitchen in the late afternoon to help.

Despite the stiff language barrier, there was a semblance of flow. Firstly, the dough was divided into portions, each enough for one dumpling. Next, the dough was rolled around in one’s hand before being pressed into disc. By rotating the dough while simultaneously using a rolling pin, a flattened dumpling was formed. Finally, filling was placed in the centre and the edges pinched together firmly.

Andrew clumsily navigated the dough often making mistakes and being forced to start again. Not enough flour and the dough would stick to the chopping board. Too much rolling and the dumpling became flimsy.

Despite this, he enjoyed the process though was unsure how much help he was. Chef was patient and kind offering tips as best she could. Andrew wondered though, as he contemplated the dumpling he had dropped on the floor, am I being selfish?

After all, his contribution was more of a hindrance than a help, despite his good intentions. Chef would likely have finished the process and moved on to other work had he not ‘made himself useful’. Was learning a selfish endeavour?

Similarly, when he trained acrobatics with Bishal, was he not taking away precious time that could be better spent working on his own techniques? Having to explain and demonstrate the basics, like the forward roll, would surely have been tedious for the Nepalese dynamo.

After all, he reflected, this is why one pays for coaching and formal education. In the scenario at the academy, what were Chef and Bishal getting in return?

They could laugh at his incompetency, Andrew thought sarcastically. Perhaps helping in this way made them feel good about themselves. Also, teaching is a way of improving on a skill. It forces the teacher to think more deeply on the subject, approach it from many different angles and better understand the foundations.

Andrew had come to a conclusion. If the teacher and student were willing, then learning is not a selfish pursuit but a symbiosis in which both parties benefit.

That night, as he admired the bowls of steamed dumplings, he noticed a few more than usual had burst open. I need more practice, he thought sheepishly.


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