Sunday, March 8, 2009

When the Student is Ready ....

... the teacher will appear.

So they say.

I'm sitting in a coffee shop, listening to people speak about the problems that confront the world - the economic crisis, poverty, disease, the homeless, depression in people, failing healthcare and education systems, crumbling infrastructure, global warming and whatever else they can think of that strains our confidence and faith in a positive future.

As I listen to this litany of concerns that would challenge some of the greatest optimists that have ever walked the face of the earth, I started to think about how well we apply what we have learned from the most impactful teachers and guides that have entered our respective spheres of influence.  I'm wondering what those teachers would say to us now if they were sitting at the tables around us, challenging us to apply our gifts to take on these global concerns.

From my own perspective, I'm not referring to the obvious list of teachers that come to mind:

  • our parents, siblings, spouses, children or other members of our family
  • God / Goddess / Allah or other supreme deity we worship
  • Gandhi or any other brilliant mind that has walked the earth
  • good friends who have been significant in our lives in other ways (that's a series of blogs in itself).

I'm thinking of the people we have encountered in our lives who, with no obligation to us as strangers, took the time to teach us by sharing their knowledge, life experiences and insight in a meaningful and impactful way.

We all have those teachers who arrived at pivotal points in our lives, made a long lasting impression and possibly moved on (or passed on to what follows after our time on Earth is complete).

Sometimes the lessons they taught us have had no perceived impact until we acquired enough life experiences to finally understand the lesson.

I'll share some examples from my life.  As I do so, I invite you to think of your own examples.

When I was in grades 1 to 3, Margaret R. introduced me to the love of reading and learning.  She created a joy of acquiring knowledge within me that burns strong to this day.  If a day goes by where I haven't learned something, then I try twice as hard the next day to make up for the opportunity missed.

Margaret also taught me something else.  One day when I would not stop talking, she asked me to come to the front of the class.  I was terrified - these were still the days when a nice "yardstick across the knuckles" was the common punishment for children who misbehaved.  When I quietly walked to the front of the class, she made me face the class and then informed the class that my punishment would be 5 kisses - the class deciding where the 5 kisses would be planted.

So after the enduring the tremendous embarrassment of being kissed on the forehead, the nose, the top of my head and on each cheek, I sat down quietly and was silent, my ears burning bright red with embarrassment.

It was a far worse punishment to a 7-year old than a whack across the hand.  I would have endured the whack across the hand, felt like somewhat of a hero and moved on.  To be kissed in front of my fellow classmates was dreadful.

Looking back on it as a 43-year old, I realize it was the best punishment I could have ever received.  In that simple lesson, she taught all of us that to make a point through violence was far less effective than to do so with love and humor.

The lesson is more enduring as well.  I may not have remembered the yardstick.  I do remember the love.

Some of the primers that we used back in those days had a lot of content written or edited by Emily H.  The flow of her work and the way it touched my mind and heart without being complex in nature sticks with me to this day.  Her work, which I still enjoy reading (both her new material and the material I read when I was 6, 7 or 8 years old) reminds me of the power of words to inspire, to motivate and to leave a life-long impression on the reader.

When I was in high school, I had a math teacher named Newton M.  Newton had a few simple rules - no gum chewing, no looking at your watch ("It's a lazy man who watches the clock", his voice would boom if he saw you) and if you were done with all of your work, you were to sit up straight and twiddle your thumbs.  If your thumbs got tired, you reversed direction and twiddled them in the opposite way.

Newton taught us that your culture and heritage are integral parts of who you are and that you must learn as much about your cultural history as you can.  "If you don't know where you come from", he reasoned, "how do you know where you are going?"

He also embraced the notion that respect is earned and not demanded.  While many of our school teachers at the time demanded that we respect them because of their title, he treated us like the young adults we were and we loved him for it and gave him equal respect back.  The toughest teacher in the school was one of the most loved. 

I found out after he passed away that he spent every spare dime he had on the kids whose families didn't have sufficient money for clothing, shoes or school books.  He did it without the need for recognition (in fact, he avoided it), he did it frequently and did it even when he had little to give.  He was despised by many teachers for doing it but did it for many years anyway.  This lesson of anonymous, unselfish service to those who need it (but don't request it) and against the beliefs of others who condemned him for it lives with me to this day.

Richard G. was a business associate and mentor of mine during part of my career on Wall Street.  I previously wrote about Richard back in November of 2008 - you can find this blog entry here.  Before he passed away, Richard taught me that even in the cutthroat world of business (and New York is as tough a place as any), good guys don't have to finish last.  He and Bruce P., who I had worked for a few years earlier, both lived by the same philosophy - "Take care of your people, take care of your customer and everything else takes care of itself".  Richard and Bruce also reminded me many times that successful people don't need to be callus, ruthless or cold.   To be successful, Richard and Bruce both insisted on:

  • being in tune with your team members individual strengths, skills, talents, knowledge, passion and purpose
  • knowing where your team members are in their life journey
  • understanding how to find the best fit for each team member within the context of who they are and the needs of the organization they work for - failure to find a place where a team member fit properly was oftentimes more a failure of the leader than the team member
  • knowing when to delegate and when to step in to guide (not to take control)
  • living with transparency, honesty and humor
  • not being afraid to ask for help or admit that a leader has made a mistake.

Richard would say that "applying these thoughts without fear can only produce positive results".  Knowing how to apply this correctly is a a gift that harvests the greatest results personally and professionally for an organization, its teams and the people and organizations they serve.  It's still the model I use when I help organizations rebuild their teams.  Jim, a friend of mine, reminded me recently that this model is not welcome in the corporate world.  He is right but I do it anyway. :-)

When I was working on some goal setting programs for inner city youth a few years back, I was extremely gung-ho to get out there and get stuff done.  I was in a hurry to make an impact, the need was great and so I reasoned that there was no time to waste.

I discovered that being in a hurry and seeing an urgent demand does not necessarily guarantee that things will happen quickly.  My belief that urgency of need guaranteed that everyone would climb on board with the same sense of urgency rapidly hit a brick wall.

At that time, Bret D. arrived in my life, bringing his business knowledge in the space, his passion for education and youth, his love for people and his life experience in the same arena I was working in.  With careful coaching, he was able to reset my expectations without quenching the fire that burned within me. 

He challenged every assumption and assertion in a manner that taught me how to refine my promotion and implementation, all the while increasing my passion instead of diminishing it.  It takes a real gift to guide someone without them feeling that they might as well give up because their initial assumptions needed strong refinement.  It also takes an incredible gift to encourage and teach without crushing the ego of the person who feels that they have it all figured out.  I had been successful in everything else, I thought - how tough could this be? :-) 

Today, I am making a transition from the business world that has provided me with incredible friendships, memories and abundance in many aspects of my life.  My Life purpose is drawing me towards a Life of deeper faith and service to humanity.  As I would expect, another teacher has arrived when I need it.

Dr. Carmel D., who is a chaplain and professor at the theology school where I have been studying theology part time for the past 8 months, brings an incredible calming presence and insightful mind to her students.  Her techniques for guiding students through a discernment process for defining a new path in Life are powerful.  Her strong faith in God and her belief that every person is important and brings God-given, God-inspired talent to Life is inspiring.  Her way of providing the student with the tools to discern for themselves how to bring their gifts to bear for the benefit of themselves and others is life-transformational.  Her relationship with her students is built on respect, love and God's purpose for each of us.

So when I think of these teachers and return my thoughts to the challenges I hear people discussing around me, a few things come to mind.

The teachers I described have taught me some significant things that have strong relevance to today's challenges and the role I can play with others in addressing these challenges:

  • Know who you are and where you come from and love yourself for it.  If you can't get past this step, everything else can be very challenging and complicated.
  • Loving others can help us overcome our apathy or indifference to what's going on around us - if we truly care for someone else, we know that we must help them.
  • Love works better and faster than violence, distrust or dishonesty.
  • Fear has no place in our life - we must push forward and expect positive results.  We live in a world conspiring to shower us with abundance - we will never partake in it if we are afraid to lift ourselves and others to share this abundance.
  • Knowledge is important to solving many of the challenges before us - we must endeavor to be in a position that provides for constant learning.
  • Sharing your knowledge unselfishly and in a way that moves the minds and hearts of others to action produces profound results.
  • Give respect to earn respect - demanding respect for any reason is setting yourself up for some incredible disappointment.
  • Give unselfishly to others and don't expect payment or recognition.
  • Build your life around collaboration, honesty and transparency - it produces much more profound results and is much less complicated.
  • Don't try to do everything yourself - there's lots of room to share the credit and provide for opportunities for growth in others. Besides - it's a lot more fun and more gets done when we work together with our respective gifts.
  • Put your ego away - we are all equal in Life potential. 
  • During times of struggle, listen to what your inner Spirit, your instinct or your faith tells you to do.  Move towards your Purpose without fear.
  • Build up the confidence of others.  Breaking others down not only sets them back, but doing so brings you down as well.

In class yesterday, my classmates and I were asked what we would identify as the most impactful story or theme from the Bible.

Mine comes from 1 Corinthians 16:13-14

Stand fast in your faith.  Be brave and be strong and all that you do, do it in love.

I think this quote succinctly ties together the themes taught to me by the teachers significant in my life.  If I can live by this creed, I can proudly say that I did my best for myself and others during my time on earth.

Now it's your turn.

Think about the significant teachers in your life.  If they were with you right now, what knowledge or insight would they share with you about your life or the world we live in?

What would they see in you that needs gentle correction or refinement?

What gifts and talents within you would they praise and draw your attention to?

What action would they encourage you to take regarding challenges in your life, in the life of someone else or in the world?

What insight from them can you share with others, to continue the legacy of learning, sharing and loving?

What indeed .............

Yours in service and servanthood.



  1. Purpose gives our life meaning. When you discover your purpose, you can live your life with intention and make choices that serve your objective for why you are here on the planet.

    Finding your purpose is not always easy. You must embrace life wholeheartedly, explore many different pathways, and allow yourself to grow...

    Learn More: The Globalization of Empathy

  2. Hi David,

    Thank you for your comment - I agree with you 100% both on the need for purpose and the challenge that comes from finding and manifesting purpose.

    Purpose - Vision - Mission - Goals .... most people don't have some or any of these nor do they know where to start! No wonder we have manifested so many challenges in the world.

    That is why I think it is important to listen to what we are being taught as we seek and explore our purpose.

    It is also important to share with others. To that point, I ordinarily don't publish links in people's comments but I liked your link so much, that I wanted to publish it. :-)

    Thanks, David and create a great day!