Though the Thai people do not appear to be great shakes as readers (and if one had to read using the Thai alphabet, which has many more letters and is much more complicated than the Latin, Greek, or Hebrew alphabets that I am more familiar with, then that is no great mystery), they are often very excellent at penmanship. Among the virtues that appears to be cultivated in Thai schools is being able to write with a very good hand. The penmanship of my students is, whether in English or in Thai, very excellent, far better than mine. It is not surprising, as without very good penmanship it is impossible to write the Thai language, with its very small squiggles and immensely baffling marks above letters for pronunciation purposes.
My own penmanship is not nearly so fine. Even in the best of times, before my hand would cramp up at the slightest provocation when writing by hand, my handwriting has been poor. Even when I would practice it for many hours as an elementary school student, my penmanship was no better than mediocre. Even in the best of times, my handwriting grades kept me from honor roll through most of elementary school, when I was practicing it the longest and the hardest. Since then my handwriting has almost certainly suffered the ravages of time and a greater interest in typing (since I can type speedily and well) rather than spending time to make what is bad merely mediocre at the cost of a lot of trouble.
It is ironic, in this light, that today in Leadership class I was teaching my students about Capabilities, which are made up of talents, attitudes, skills, knowledge, and style. Often in life there are arguments about nature or nurture, the precise relationship between natural aptitude and hard work. There are some who mistakenly believe that one can succeed at anything one tries at hard enough, and others who mistakenly believe that no matter how much they try there will be no improvement. As is often the case, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Our natural talents are like multipliers to the time and effort we take. If we have little or no talents, our practice will show little effort, and it will take much work to even be mediocre at some matters. If we have great natural talents, we will quickly become very skilled at what we practice, and if we have fair talents, we will progress fairly.
It seems I am often finding odd and intriguing object lessons from what goes on around me. Surely I have an unusual taste for irony, or for parables, compared with most people, but I imagine the ordinary lives of most people provide lessons enough if they will be learned. As for me, it was fairly easy for me (and amusing for my students) to tell of the fact that some teahers in high school refused to let me turn in homework handwritten because of my scrawl, and anytime I want to get a class to laugh out loud all I have to do is try to write one of the Thai words they are looking for in their dictionaries on the board. For a scratch of the pen can be a very useful lesson to a class when it comes not only to knowledge and abilities but the difficulties in passing that information on to others in an easily comprehensible fashion. And often the same truths are revealed in metaphors and symbols as in blunt speech, for many are the languages in which truth can be told for those who are aware.