In this short piece, I will argue that this kind of relationship, based on asymmetry of knowledge and experience, can be used for the better or for the worse.
It can be used for the worse because it is an invitation to arrogance for some, who thrive on the ignorance of others as a means of feeling good about their so-called “knowledge’. The tendency to rant about how newbies behave is newbie behavior in itself. The mark of an experienced mountaineer does not lie in the tendency to identify or criticize the newbies, but in the ability to teach and inspire them.
This kind of behavior is problematic because that knowledge will be limited in relation to others more knowledgeable, moreover, knowledge is not absolute; you cannot impose your philosophy, for instance, that anyone who hires a porter is less of a mountaineer. There are absolute measures of hiking knowledge, but the rest are just preferences.
Moreover, asymmetry of knowledge can also used to mislead “newbies” into joining activities of questionable value, or for profiteering. We have seen this happen in the past few years.
On the other hand, newbies ought to behave in accordance to the unwritten rules of hiking. Being a newbie is not an excuse; the worst newbie is the one who thinks he’s not a newbie. Why is this behavior so bad? Because it precludes learning from others; by saying that you are knowledgeable, you have shut the door for knowledge. There are instances where knowledge has to be offered in an intrusive way, if failure to do so becomes a sin of omission. Examples include telling hikers to pick up the trash they left behind; or calling out a poor rope technique. Still, in most cases, the best envelope for knowledge is scented, as though to invite; it must be delivered in a nice way.
Because the definition is relational, I suppose everyone is a newbie with respect to another, more experienced person; someone who has climbed Mt. Pulag may look down on another who has climbed Maculot, but wait till Romi Garduce shows up in the trail. I’m sure Romi himself will not be as boastful. The Persian proverb says it best: The more you know, the more you know that you do not know.” I alluded to this when I once posted something like this: “The more you climb, the more you know that you’ve climbed only a few.”
How can we make the most of this asymmetry? Let me count the ways. One, the relational distinction between two hikers identifies who ought to teach. In other words, the proper way to channel feelings over this asymmetric relationship is through teaching and learning.
Two, the newbie role should make the newbie take advantage of his situation by learning from the people around him, whereas the experienced hiker must have the impetus to teach and share. Indeed, the only justification for calling someone a ‘newbie’ is if you willing to teach him, and to get him out of that label as soon as possible. “Newbie”, then, is a learning role, outside of which the term is a non-entity.
Three, the asymmetry preempts all other bases of comparison, and in acknowledging its existence, all parties involved acknowledge, too, that this asymmetry can be overcome. It orients everybody, thus, positively, towards the acquisition of more learning. The kuya has to act mature before his younger brother, and they then build each other up: an entirely synergistic relationship emerges.
In summary, I think that “the newbie stage” is a very real part of the process of learning, whether in hiking or other fields. Being called a newbie is not an insult; in fact, it ought to be a period of joy. Love for learning must be an indwelling desire among newbies, as well as respect for elders, which is based on the acknowledgment that the experienced hiker may not be always able to relate to your joy (let alone pride) of having climbed Pulag, or your excitement over jumpshots, or your indignation over some trash left in Pico de Loro, as if the trash just appeared yesterday.
On the other hand, no hiker should look down on “newbies”; we were all newbies once, and newbies still. Instead, let us freely share whatever we have learned and experienced. Let us be trail signs, not thorns, to those who wish to climb mountains.
MANILA AND SINGAPORE
March 15-19, 2012