An Iconoclast with Respect for Tradition

As part of my application process for getting into St. John’s College (even though I ultimately could not afford to attend), I was either required to have or decided to attain (I do not remember which) several reference letters from a few of my college professors. In spite of my high school performance, or lack thereof, I was a good student in college and they were happy to recommend me for acceptance into St. John’s. The letters were all very generous and I was honored to have them from these people I respected and enjoyed learning from.

One letter in particular, written by a professor who I have written about elsewhere, I found quite moving. This professor explained in his letter that he saw in me “an iconoclast with respect for tradition.” The reason this particular comment from this particular professor stuck out to me and has stuck with me after all of these years is because it is something that never occurred to me before. He saw this dichotomy in my character that I did not see in myself. This simple little phrase caused me to reflect on who I was and how I related to the world and that reflection changed me.

To see ourselves through the eyes of another, especially when what that person sees is reflected back to us with compassion, is a gift. In this instance, I could see some deep truth in what he saw in me and it not only explained some of my opinions, ideas, and actions, but it also allowed me to make better decisions about who I was and who I wanted to be. It has been my experience that there are certain aspects of our character that do not change. It is as if they are branded on our souls. They are part of us from before we are born and remain with us beyond the grave. Once we see these truths, once we acknowledge them, we can put them to use in the service of something greater instead of blindly being at their mercy.

 Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

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