Tuesday, December 2, 2014

How Well Do We Know our Youth?

A famous computer graphic artist, Hiroyuki Hayashida, recently visited our university. Mr. Hayashida is renowned for his numerous animations such as Final Fantasy 12 and 13. His visit to our university involved a two-hour workshop which was dedicated to students majoring in Computer Graphics and Animation. A lecture given during the lunch break was open for anyone to attend.

As I was very busy with my department’s activities, I did not have the time to sufficiently advertise the lecture. I just sent broadcast e-mails about it. When the hour of the lecture approached, I became very tense; I was worried that the turnout would be disappointing. From previous experiences, I know that students are generally reluctant to skip their lunch break just to attend a lecture.

A couple of minutes before the lecture, the hall started to fill in, row after row. Very quickly, all 150 seats were occupied. The hall was so full that some students sat on the stairways and others stood on the doorways, blocking newcomers from getting in.

What happened? I had totally underestimated the passion of our students for Japanese culture. I grew up in the ‘60s and was a big fan of Western cartoons such as “Tom and Jerry.” But for many Lebanese children growing up in the ‘70s and ’80s, the ultimate heroic figure was “Grendizer,” a giant robot in an animated Japanese series—or anime. “Grendizer” and other Japanese series dubbed into Arabic transformed a generation of our youth into anime fans.

Manga and anime have distinctive styles, featuring characters with enormous eyes and spiky hair. What differentiates anime from Western cartoons is the drama. Although anime is no longer dubbed into Arabic and screened locally, Lebanese fans can access it on satellite TV and online. The devoted fans of manga and anime, known as “otaku people,” are so addicted to these Japanese series they have started to enroll in Japanese classes.

When Mr. Hayashida’s open lecture ended, a large part of the audience queued to take pictures with our invitee and to get his signature. These are the Lebanese otaku people.

We normally complain about not being able to attract our students to attend general lectures. It seems that the problem stems from the fact that we have a poor understanding of what attracts our youth. This lecture was a mind-opener to me and taught me three good lessons:
  • Our youth have powerful potentials; we must be courageous enough to change our old ideas and practices so that we may direct these potentials toward good and useful purposes.
  • We must allow today’s youth to be themselves and have their own attitudes and choices, not those of their predecessors—otherwise our communication with them is blocked.
  • Learning about our youth comes as a result of listening. To listen well, we must have empathy, and our empathy will grow as we learn more about the youth.

“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” ― Ralph G. Nichols
 * I would like to thank my friend Richard Pennington for his most valuable comments!
* Enclosed photo of Square Enix can be found here