Malala Yousafzai, a female Pakistani and youngest Nobel Prize laureate, proclaimed “Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world.” The defiance of this brave activist’s statement has resonated with me since I first read the passage several months ago.
My fondness for Ms. Yousafzai and her compelling message is partly motivated by my admiration for those courageous souls who bravely stand up to oppression (The Founders and MLK to name a few.) It is also stimulated to some degree by my steadfast affinity for those who teach, those who mentor and those who inspire others to be the best they can.
For me, there is no greater calling than that of one who molds the lives of others. Whether this is formally, as a teacher, or informally as a mentor remains inconsequential to me. It is the result that matters, not the means. My nominee for America’s greatest essayists, the 19th Century poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, pierced the marrow of this conclusion when he remarked “Our chief want in life is somebody who will make us do what we can.”
Another esteemed American wordsmith, Henry Brooks Adams, lionized those who touch the lives of others, writing “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” Words that convincingly form a most fitting epitaph from my perspective. Any achievement or accomplishment that has come my way over the years can be traced back in large degree to those who took the time to teach and mentor me.
Throughout the span of my life there have been many. Each of them embracing a belief former United Kingdom Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, espoused: “The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own.”
I read once, not sure where, that a teacher takes a hand, opens a mind and touches a heart. What a beautiful statement. More so, what an indubitable affidavit. The teachers that touched my heart did so with permanence that has remained with me for my entire life. When I think of the impact they have had on my life I am reminded of a phrase attributed to Alexander the Great – himself taught by none other than the Greek ancient philosopher, Aristotle:-“I am indebted to my father for living, but to my teacher for living well.”
This is the same with the mentors that touched my life. The British hero of World War II, Sir Winston Churchill, proclaimed “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Ghanaian philosopher, Lailah Gifty Akita, was even more precise in her proclamation noting “Every great achiever is inspired by a great mentor.” Not saying I am a great achiever but over the years I have been blessed with the support and guidance of great mentors.
The poet, Robert Frost, claimed “I am not a teacher, I am an awakener,” I find this subtle passage strikingly keen in its announcement of what teachers – or mentors – actually attain as a product of their efforts. Throughout my life, the really effective teachers and mentors that touched my life did just as the poet insisted: They exposed me to that which I already possessed. They cultivated my suppressed ambitions and in some cases challenged me to expand my horizons. In doing so, they proved time and again the sagacity of Italian astronomer, Galileo’s, insistence that “You cannot teach a man anything. You can only help him discover it within himself”
The University of Alabama’s legendary football coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant, once noted “The idea of molding men means a lot to me.” This is a simple and quite low-key remark that takes on epic proportion when placed in the context of his tremendous success mentoring young men to greatness over his remarkable career. It also underscores in volumes the motivation most teachers and mentors feel as they approach their roles. Except for commanding, mentoring was the most rewarding experience of my military career. Post-Army, mentoring still remains a pivotal element of my well-being; providing contentment and a sense of purpose.
Over 2,000 years ago, the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle noted “Those who know, do. Those that understand, teach.” Not surprising, his teacher, Plato, echoed essentially the same acknowledgement: “Those who don’t know must learn from those who do.” Both phrases emphasize the importance of what teachers do and why they do it. A tandem of absolutes anyone who has benefitted from the attention, support or guidance of a teacher or mentor needs not be reminded.
Teachers and mentors come in all shapes and sizes. Some trained with protocol in the classroom; others informally shaped by experiences and travails. They can be young and old; rich and poor. Demographics are not a discriminator. One only needs to possess the willingness and ability to make a difference in others. In doing so, one will reap dividends for themselves as well. An embodiment of rock musician, Phil Collins’, lyric “In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.”
According to Cuban humanitarian and author Jorge Armando Pérez Venâncio, “El mentor es motivado por el amor” (“Mentoring is motivated by love.”) The 19th Century Swiss moral philosopher, Henri Frédéric Amiel, offered “To know how to suggest is the great art of teaching.” If you possess either the emotion or the ability I encourage you to strive to make a difference in the lives of others. If you are doing this already, you have my respect. If not, I beseech you to begin.
One of America’s greatest inspirational writers, William Arthur Ward, once penned “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires” In your Second Fifty, be that “great teacher…or mentor.’
The weblog entry title is a quote borrowed from 18th Century French essayist, Joseph Joubert.
This is dedicated to all the great teachers and mentors who have touched my life. There have been many. And, just as much, to those on the opposite side who allowed me to touch theirs.