You Are A Teacher

by Marc Winitz

One of the most appealing parts to being a black belt and training in any martial art is the ability to make a difference in peoples lives. Over the course of our lives we have many interactions with teachers. But being a teacher does not have to require being in a school room, although I have certainly had influential school room experiences. At the end of the day a teacher is someone that makes a difference in your life. After years of training and becoming a teacher I began to realize that they are many “teachers” in the world. Not all teachers are created equally and some offer more wisdom than others. However, most people have something to offer that is teachable even in small doses.

Small Ways to Make a Big Difference
I recently read an e-book by a personal development blogger named Raam Dev. Raam decided to leave his corporate life behind and is traveling the world to explore for himself issues of poverty and cultural evolution while learning the challenges that most people face outside of first world countries. This is also a personal journey as he blogs about his personal evolution. His recently completed e-book brings together thoughts and opinions from other bloggers across the globe and you can download it here. The book provides small pearls of wisdom, some readily useful, others that may or may not make a difference to a specific reader. But for me it also points to the fact that there are many types of teachers, regardless of their position in life, training or formal credentials. And that is worth exploring.

Meritocracy Matters but so does Aged Wisdom
In Japan the term “sensei” is used to refer to a teacher. As age is equated with wisdom (and not always merit or accomplishment we see in Western culture) the term literally translates to “one who has gone before”. This simply honors the tradition that someone else has more life experience based on chronological age. Something we have pretty much forgetten in our current society. In a karate dojo your length of time in training is your “chronological age” so someone that is 16 years old but has trained for one year can offer a level of wisdom and knowledge to someone who is in their 40’s but brand new to training.

Yet we live in age and culture where progress and accomplishment are deeply valued. So much so that we equate success with wisdom. And while there is some truth to this idea, it’s not the entire picture.

Whether we realize it or not, all of us are teachers whether we want that responsibility or not.

Teachers Are Everywhere, Just Look For Them
Whether or not you intend to make a difference in someone else’s life chance are that you have more influence than you realize. In effect, you own pearls of wisdom are valuable. So, what types of people qualify as teachers? Here are the obvious ones:

  • Parents – In my mind parents are the ultimate teachers. Simply because they hold so much influence in the development of their children from their attitudes about respect and manners to work ethics and values.
  • Coaches – Perhaps the easiest group to classify as a teacher outside a formal classroom, coaches (sports or professional/business/life) are focused on formation and advancement of the individual around a specific set of goals. Coaches typically drive towards personal accountability and are the closest to a “sensei” that I can associate with.
  • Work Colleagues – Certainly a boss or supervisor can be a teacher simply because you can learn from a superior if they are competent. Yet our peers in the work force are also candidates to be classified as “teacher”. Sometimes we simply need to look at them in a different light to see this and not rule out someone’s contribution or thoughts simply because of their position relative to our own.
  • Religious Leaders – Whether you seek the counsel of a rabbi, pastor, imam or some other credible spiritual advisor, religious leaders are very much teachers simply because they usually impose self examination as part of their work (usually).
  • Friends – Trust matters in teaching and often we grant more leeway to our friends as teachers than we realize. This occurs simply because we are more receptive to the social proof of others, especially people we already trust. Whether or not a friend’s comments or thoughts are really useful is a personal matter but there can be no doubting we learn, sometimes eagerly, from friends, even if we don’t intend to see them that way. And this is simply because we are willing to try something that a friend suggests.
  • Siblings – Ever had an older brother or sister? ‘Nuf said.
  • Bloggers – The fact that someone writes their opinions doesn’t make them a teacher. However, many people that blog very much fall into “sensei” role simply because of the social element of social media and the attached social proof. In addition, we usually assign more value to what is written (because it is on paper, even electronically) than what is spoken. Some of my favorite “electronic senseis” include social media expert Mark Schaeffer who writes the top social media marketing blog Businesses Grow, and  venture capitalist and top business blogger Mark Suster (who writes an interesting piece on social proof in investing here) at Both Sides of the Table, and the travel (and by extension business) empire oriented Chris Guillebeau who pens The Art of Non Conformity. In varying ways all of these bloggers (who are also savvy business people) make a difference in peoples lives in very public and pronounced ways.

You Are a Teacher
Whether or not you realize it you are most likely a teacher. The scale of what you teach and the contribution of what you offer may vary greatly from others. But even your smallest actions do make a difference whether you see it or not. A simple e-book reminded me of this. You do not need to be a sensei to understand and use this to your advantage for your own good or the good of others.

Thanks for training with me.

Photo credit courtesy of dalydose.

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July 26, 2010 at 5:19 am

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