Have You Been Rattled Lately?

| April 11, 2011

There was a French illuminatus called the “Bourbaki” – a mathematical club with an eccentrically exclusive membership. When a member was over a certain age, younger ones would at time test his acumen by tossing him a tough question.  Bourbakists called this tradition “shaking the tree” – a saying in Indonesia when boys hang on tall trees and shake violently to off the others – a test of one’s strength.

Being the oldest boy in my family, I am not used to “being shaken” by younger members although I was outshined academically on many occasions.  After immigrating to the U.S., I was rarely challenged by others.  But of late, I found the subtle but immense pleasure in shaking other’s trees and having my own tree shaken.

Just last night, my tree was shaken.  My statistics professor, Dr. Landau, a kindly septuagenarian, regales the class with cookies.  After inspecting the nutritional content, I haughtily pitched the confections into the bin to everybody’s horror.   Then I proceeded to do the homework for another class.  When I was verifying the answer to an assigned problem with another student, he gave a different answer.  This forced me to scrutinizing my methods for the next 20 minutes.  After I was convinced of my original answer, I quietly confronted him.  “Well, that was my way of getting back at you for tossing the cookies.”  What a hoot.  I enjoyed the challenge, after all, it boosted my confidence and above all, I was still hanging on to my tree.  Has your tree been rattled lately?