Passionate about your pet and mad about you
Empty Your Cup

Empty Your Cup

24th August 2019

Dr Lennon’s Sunday Musings

Having a Chinese background, one of my favourite Kung Fu actors is Bruce Lee. Bruce is not only a great martial artist and actor, he was also a great philosopher. Considering he was only around for a little over 3 decades (he died when he was 33 years old), he made a huge impact around the world.

One of the best stories for me is this. It tells the story dating back to 1964, when the author, Joe Hyams, met with the legendary Bruce Lee for the very first time to see if Sensei Lee would teach him privately:
“Why do you want to study with me?” (Bruce) asked.
“Because I was impressed with your demonstration and because I’ve heard you are the best.”
“You’ve studied other martial arts?” he asked.
“For a long time,” I answered, “but I stopped some time ago and now I want to start over again.”
“Do you realize you will have to unlearn all you have learned and start over again?” he asked.
“No,” I said.
Bruce smiled and placed his hand lightly on my shoulder. “Let me tell you a story my sifu told me,” he said. “It is about the Japanese Zen master who received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. It was obvious to the master from the start of the conversation that the professor was not so much interested in learning about Zen as he was in impressing the master with his own opinions and knowledge. The master listened patiently and finally suggested they have tea. The master poured his visitor’s cup full and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the cup overflowing until he could no longer restrain himself. ‘The cup is overfull, no more will go in.’ ‘Like the cup,’ the master said, ‘you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?’ “
Bruce studied my face. “You understand the point?”
“Yes,” I said. “You want me to empty my mind of past knowledge and old habits so that I will be open to new learning.”
“Precisely,” said Bruce. “And now we are ready to begin your first lesson.”

Many a time we bring a lot of ‘baggage’ with us when we want to learn something. We carry beliefs, expectations, perspectives, opinions and pre-conceived ideas when learning. How are we meant to learn when we already know so much? Three most dangerous words one could ever utter when learning are, ‘I know that’. Once those words are said, very little information is able to penetrate into the mind for the mind is already full and closed.

There are various reasons why we do that. Sometimes, we do not want to appear stupid. Maybe it is because we feel we are expected to know that. Maybe we are too shy to ask to admit our ignorance. Maybe we are not interested in learning more. Maybe we really think we know it all.

Knowledge is truly boundless. Imagine if you are sitting in a room, say, the exact room you are in now. Where you are sitting is what you know you know. Around the room is what you know you do not know. For example, if there is a cupboard or storage in the room, you know there is something inside but you also know you do not know what is inside. Or if there is a person carrying a bag or having pockets, you know there is something in there but you do not know what it is. So, you know what you do not know. Now, outside the room, you have no idea what is happening out there which means you do not know what you do not know. Someone once said ‘Two things are infinite, the
Universe and human stupidity, and I am not yet completely sure about the universe.’ We simply do not know everything. To think that we do is just plain arrogant, silly and more importantly, inaccurate.

In the pet industry, there are so many opinions out there. Is feeding dogs raw food dangerous? Is it the best food? Is neutering your pet necessary? Are we able to make cats ‘indoor’ only? Does acupuncture work? Do animals feel pain? Is homeopathy effective? Do vaccinations completely safe and compulsory? Are pets an entitlement or a luxury? And many more questions that has so many ‘answers’ or merely opinions.

If we truly want to learn, we need to empty our cup. No matter how full, it is a prerequisite to learning. The usefulness of a cup is its emptiness. To better improve our skills as pet owners and as veterinary professionals, we need to empty our cups to learn from each other. Education is a two way thing. The best masters are also the best students. The more I learn about anything, the more I realise I know nothing.

In my experience, I find my consultations most fulfilling when I have learnt something about you, the pet owner or your pet that I did not know before. I also find that my treatment plans are most effective when I am working with you, the pet owner, to walk me through both your and your pet’s habits so I can come up with the best plan. It is a collaboration between you and I to come up with the treatment plan, not just me telling you what to do.

Comment below on an occasion that you felt you did not learn as your cup was not empty.

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Passionate about your pet and mad about you