Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Crust at the Bottom of the Pot

The Crust at the Bottom of the Pot

            There is a term in Visayan (a Philippine dialect), "dukot." This is the crust that forms at the bottom of the pot of cooked rice. This signals that we have come to the bottom of the supply of fluffy, soft, cooked rice.  All that is left is the hardened, meshed, dried-up, over-cooked rice. While we are spooning cooked rice from the top, we are serving the desired quality of the cooked rice.  As we hit the bottom, folks say that we now see the "witness."

             The above is a fact of cooking witnessed by every homemaker.  It is also a fact of life. Let me use the "dukot" example as a metaphor.  When supply is abundant, we are generous, friendly, helpful and caring.  We give without expecting rewards.  It is as though we scatter freely coins out into the streets for others to pick up. As supply dwindles down, we become tight with our resources. We question whether we should even contribute our due share to benefit the community.  We begin to find fault in others, vigilant in our opportunity to pounce at the slightest hint of blunder or misjudgment. It becomes a case of "us against them."

             A second way to interpret our rice "dukot" metaphor is with our association with people. When we first meet someone casually for a brief moment, we are impressed with the individual's graciousness, courtesy and friendliness.  As we get to know the person and work for longer periods of time together, we discover personality traits that may contradict our first impression.  The "dukot" of personality traits become in full view when things do not happen as we have planned or challenges are thrown into the situation which block a smooth sailing of our expected journey.  

             A professor once told a story of his conference with a mentally disturbed patient.  Face to face with a well groomed person dressed in a suit, conversation went smoothly as with any normal person.  My professor thought to himself, "There must be some mistake, this patient perhaps does not belong in the institution."  After two hours, however, the intelligent sounding person gradually lost his footing until he reached his "dukot" point.  He acted like he indeed belonged in the institution for mentally disturbed persons.  

             A third interpretation of this "dukot" metaphor is how a person's behavior is affected by one's state.  When one is rested, had eaten breakfast or lunch, is physically comfortable, one is fully cooperative, positive and cordial. Sometime after 10:00 PM that cordial person becomes argumentative, negative and is trying one's best to pick a fight.  How could such a transformation from good to bad occur on this lovable person within a short time?  The answer is, the person is now tired and if given the permission to leave the conversation, one will retire and will be snoring in no time.  The same thing happens if the person is hungry or angry or lonely.  The acronym HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, tired) is a good way to remember the external factors that may affect a person's usual way of interacting from positive to negative.  

             While running a Montessori school for children ages six weeks to six years, I noticed that certain parents who had been previously supportive of the school suddenly turned sour with no cause for this change of heart.  A few minutes of conversation found that one of the following external factors prompted some parents to be on the attack of the school: the father lost his job, the mother found out she was pregnant, the couple had been on the brink of a divorce, the couple was moving to another location.  Some people just could not face the truth squarely and be honest about it instead of inventing stories so as to appear blameless and put the blame on the school.  Knowing this factor lessens the pain that others may be inflicting on us.

             What have we learned from interpreting this metaphor? Where can we personally apply the lessons suggested in these interpretations?  Are you better equipped in handling situations without the usual impulsive reactions to the annoying, irritating or frustrating event?  What can we gain by contemplating further on this metaphor?  

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