student learning

Surrounded by Teachers

Seeing the discord in the United States is very painful for me, as I am sure it is with others. In a recent article from the Center of Action and Contemplation, Richard Rohr shared a practice of learning from others which really resonated with me at this time.

To me, attacking the wrongs of others, does not help. Debating the issues does not solve them. Voicing support for those marginalized does send some good vibes but does not seem to do enough. Blaming government or other institutions as the cause of this discord, resolves nothing.

If we want to make a difference in the world, the first and truly only thing we can change 100% is ourselves.

Instead of pointing at others, instead of feeling a powerless victim, instead of showing support but taking no action, look to yourself. Cultivate authentic solidarity as Richard Rohr recommends. Instead of speaking from a point of privilege, shift to understanding the world and experience of the other. Seek understanding and acceptance. Step out of the ego-role of being a savior, helper, warrior, or prosecutor, and instead be with the other.

Photo by Leonardo Toshiro Okubo on Unsplash

Try this today. Look at each person you meet – in person, online, in the news – and view them as your teacher. If they are inspirational, if they share knowledge you do not have, if they treat others as you aspire to, uncover what can you learn from them. How can you embrace their good qualities? Which ones are missing from your life that you can begin to adopt? The same goes for those acting in ways you do not condone. They are your teachers as well. Which of their negative characteristics do you have as well? Perhaps they do not appear in the same way, but how are you selfish, self-centered, dishonest, frightened, and judgmental? How can you change how you speak, act, and approach the world in a better way?

I used this same type of mentality when I was learning to be a theatrical director. By watching other directors – how they treated the cast, how they interpreted the text, how they worked with the creative team, how they handled pressure – I picked up clues about how to be a director. Honestly, I learned more from the less talented directors than I did from the good ones. It is like trying to learn how to play basketball from Michael Jordan. He made it look easy and magical. Instead, by watching someone who does not perform as well, it is easier to see what they are doing wrong or what they can improve. And then I look at making those improvements in myself.

Because my heart goes out to all those in pain and suffering right now, I find it much more productive and calming to focus on what I can change. I am learning of my own prejudice. I am learning how I assume I know how others should act and think I can make them act that way. I am learning how attachment to my expectation causes pain.

As you go about this week, instead of commenting on the actions or words of others, look to them as your teachers. What can you learn about yourself to help you be a better person?