This week, Hinata and the other first-year volleyball players in Haikyuu!! 2 impressed me with how they seek and accept the advice of more experienced athletes. This isn’t a new thing; they’ve been getting help from peers and coaches pretty much since day one, and over the past several episodes especially. But this time, it’s drawing a little more reflection.
I’m always amazed when people take my advice without protest or any sign of annoyance, especially when I forget to ask before counseling them. My pride tends to get in the way when others counsel me. I catch myself being defensive, even when I’ve invited the advice, like when my creative writing classmates critique my work. I want the wisdom on my terms, and I don’t want them to doubt my competency. “This was a really rough draft, so I know it needs work,” I might say. Or, “Yeah, comedy really isn’t my best genre.” Or, worse (and not said to their face), “I’ll admit this needs a lot work, but still. If they’d noticed the clues I left, the ending would make more sense to them. Excuse me for expecting them to use their brains when reading my story.” Put into type, the ugliness of those words is undeniable.
And that’s when I’ve anticipated and asked for the advice in a writing workshop. When it’s unsolicited—perhaps about my spiritual walk or how to manage my homework (or worse, suggestions on how to manage my ADD), I react more vehemently (though I try to hide it when it’s on spiritual matters, because spiritual competency requires humility, and my pride would really take a hit if I came off as anything except humble and teachable… yeah, I see the irony, and I recognize the problem).
I’m teachable on my terms, which really means I’m barely teachable at all. So I admire the trait in others.
Kageyama, like me, is pretty prideful. He’s been forced to face the way his pride made him tyrranical on the court, but it’s still not easy to ask for advice. When he and Hinata needed Tsukishina’s help with homework near the beginning of the season, he asked through gritted teeth. But in episode 6, he did the unthinkable: he asked his middle school senpai and rival, Oikawa, for setting advice. It was painful, and Oikawa rubbed it in Kageyama’s face. But Oikawa challenged him with just the words he needed: “are you giving Hinata the tosses he wants?”
The other first years on Karasuno’s team are seeking help from their peers, too. They’re at a week-long training camp with several other teams, including their friends and rivals, Nekoma. A few of the older ones, including Nekoma’s Kuroo, snagged the aloof Tsukishina for extra practice. They needed another blocker to practice against, and the tall first first year fit the bill. He was reluctant at first. Why put so much effort into a club when he couldn’t be the best anyway? At first, he tried to get out of extra practice. Then, he started asking questions—especially after his friend and teammate confronted him on his “uncool” attitude. Kuroo and the other upperclassmen answered his questions best they could and explained what made volleyball so worthwhile for them. Something finally clicked, and now Tsukishina is trying harder and accepting advice from his older peers.
In the ninth, most recent episode, Hinata and another first year storm Tsukishina and the others’ extra practice and ask to join in. Then Kuroo suggests a three-on-three, they are elated. They get to play with and against some of Tokyo’s greatest players. All of them specialize in spiking and/or blocking, and the older ones are generous with advice—and not exactly gentle about it.
Kuroo yells to his younger teammate, Lev, to look where the ball is headed before jumping. Then he tells Tsukishina to full stop before jumping to block whenever possible. Both of them are very receptive.
Fukurodani’s ace, Bokuto, is a little kinder when he advises Hinata, “Spiking doesn’t just involve slamming the ball in the ground. If you’re calm you’ll see how to attack.”
The first years don’t give protests or excuses. There’s no “right, I knew that” or “I was trying!” They just thankfully incorporate what they’re taught into their practice.
Remember, they’re not just taking advice from coaches or their own senpai: they’re learning from their rivals. That takes a humility and teachability that I can learn from.
It’s hard to admit I’m not teachable outside of specific circumstances. It’s a trait that looks good on a resume (and I think I can honestly put it there, because I expect to be taught, and I will force a teachable attitude onto myself every day of work for the first several months, until it becomes habitual in that space). More importantly, the Bible encourages teachability and the humility to respect others. It’s said explicitly in several places, especially Proverbs and the Gospels—the command “listen” or a synonym pops up frequently, and it’s the kind of listening that prompts belief and action. In his letters, Paul instructs Christians to encourage one another—not to flatter, but to build each other up, even if it requires uncomfortable exhortations at times.
My pride gets in the way. I’m used to being the one who gives advice. It’s one thing to accept wisdom from my parents or professors, and even then, if I perceive any critique at all, it can be hard not to get defensive. But when it comes from my peers, it’s even harder to listen. And that’s to my own detriment. The consequences are twofold: First, my defensiveness could hurt my friends, or at least discourage them from giving me advice in the future. Second, I could miss out on some very beneficial counsel.
So what now? Those of us who struggle to take advice might follow this game plan:
- Confess the sin to God and ask for help with humility and respect for others’ wisdom. Repeat as needed.
- Get in the habit of asking for advice from peers as well as your seniors. Remember, people generally like to be asked, so this is a loving thing to do… but the problem right now probably isn’t just love. It’s humility. So don’t try to weasel out of of humility be being a “good, loving Christian” who’s showing appreciation by asking for advice. That’s neither humble nor particularly loving. You need their help. Maybe it’s with homework. Maybe it’s a question about the Bible, or parenting, or relationships.
- When you ask for advice, be willing to accept it, even when it’s not what you expect.
- Sometimes, advice is unsolicited, and that’s harder to respond to. I’ll be headed back to bullet point #1 frequently.
- If you get defensive in response to someone’s counsel, apologize to them (even if it’s days later). Ask forgiveness, and when appropriate, ask them for their continued advice.
As a Christian and a writer, teachability is part of my “job” description. Some say writers need thick skin, because we’re always receiving critiques—whether from workshops, editors, or rejection letters. It’s true that we, like everyone, need to be able to discern what critiques we can learn from and what we can’t take to heart. We can’t take everything personally. But some advice, we need to internalize, process, and apply. If thick skin gets in the way of that, it’s not serving us well.