Out of Context

Since coming to Japan, I had begun to think that I had become more honest – more upfront – since a language barrier doesn’t allow you to use euphemisms very well. I thought I noticed a slight increase in assertiveness and a greater comfort around other people with more aggressive personalities. And then today, a brief, but bloody battle between one of the ryugakusei (exchange students) and our teacher, made me rethink this possibility. I won’t go into the details, but basically the student and our teacher had it out in front of the entire class and there was quite a bit of hostility and rage on the part of the student. The whole thing left me with the desire to be held – to be sheltered from that sort of unmasked hostility and outspoken anger and I actually found myself comforted by the presence of so many people on the subway. As I began to feel relief sink in along with the body heat of the other passengers, I wondered, “why did that upset me so much?” It seemed strange that I would be so adversely affected by something that had nothing to do with me. I wondered if I had become as comfortable with confrontation as I thought. Is the truth not that I have become more assertive or more comfortable with confrontation, but that I now live in a country where even someone as passive-aggressive-never-gives-a-straight-answer-finds-the-nicest-way-to-say-it type of person as me, could be more assertive and straight-forward than the most aggressive person in the country? When I go back home, will I be the same old Sam-has-to-ask-me-a-question-three-times-to-make-sure-I’m-answering-truthfully me? I had hoped not. But now I wonder if I had been looking at my new-found assertiveness entirely out of context.

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