We are in a time calling for genuine teachers. It is such a time because we are in dire need of critical lessons, which include:
• How do we avoid reckless use of natural resources?
• How do we strengthen an economic system driven by competition and laced with greed without the greed destroying us?
• How do we find the necessary equanimity to move beyond choice anchored in immediate gratification and remain committed to what is sustainable?
• How do we clarify personal values and find the courage to remain in integrity by living those values?
• How do we loosen our grip upon accessing data and information, restoring the pursuit of wisdom to its rightful place?
• How do we let go of a stifling parochialism and reclaim a reverence for life's mystery?
We are in a time when there is a hunger to learn. One of the indicators of such a time is the polarization of political and religious ideologies. Such polarization generates a tension and the psyche longs to learn what might relax the uneasiness. When that happens, teachers of all shapes and sizes show up. This abundance of available instruction is both a gift and a curse. On one level, the need to learn has a greater opportunity to be addressed. While on another level, we are left with the challenge to distinguish charlatans from genuine teachers. Several possible indicators of charlatans include:
• They will possess charisma. (Old definition of the word charisma is divine grace.) Because of the alluring quality of charisma, imposters possess the ability to call people to them with the purpose being to inflate their own agenda.
• They prioritize making people feel good, rather than encouraging people to wrestle with life's deeper issues. They often employ what I call the Sarah Palin approach to problems ("I can see Russia from Alaska.") This approach simply makes a ridiculous reduction to the size of a problem so folks won't feel inadequate of overwhelmed by it.
• They promise that people will feel better abut themselves if they follow their recommendations rather than more challenging results like living more authentically and with more compassion.
• They place emphasis upon the alleged answers they have rather than promoting curiosity.
• They avoid referencing their own foolishness.
• They distort the ancient meaning of the word educate which means to call forth and change it to mean to pour in.
• They also are charismatic with the ability to call people to them. The difference is that when folks arrive ready to receive the message, they refer students back to themselves. As students become more referenced to themselves, they can learn how they previously attached to distortions, limiting the amount of truth available to them. They can also learn how self-sabotage limited their accessibility to love and possibly diminished self-empowerment, with the emphasis on students accepting that the truth lies within themselves.
• They prioritize curiosity and when they draw conclusions, they continue to ask about what else needs to be considered. In doing so, they can move from cognitive loyalty to cognitive tolerance, not needing to take up sanctuary in their beliefs and deeply valuing diverse thinking.
• They remain self-examining especially to the seduction of adoring eyes. The hope being that that kind of mindfulness allows genuine teachers to remember they are seekers and not receptacles of the truth.
• They remain willing to admit that a charlatan dwells within them, in constant need of their vigilance. This reminder can help to keep the teacher responsible for his and her self-love, rather than falling prey to the adoration being offered by the student.
• They remain committed to bringing heart to mind, which allows them to hold beliefs woven with compassion. They commit to bring mind to their deep sentiments, helping them not to get trapped in narrow thinking when they have strong emotions.
Benefits to the Student
There are some important advantages for students learning from authentic teachers. However, there is the challenge of students becoming responsible to seek the truth lying within them. It means giving up the hope of a parent figure or guru who will save them, which can be an arduous task. Here are some of the benefits to students having the courage to learn from authentic teachers:
• Students are blessed for who they are and not encouraged to improve by adopting prescriptions advanced by the teacher. Calls to improvement are replaced by a call to students to be who they are meant to be.
• Students are blessed for being in possession of a truth waiting to be accessed.
• Students are able to craft an honest relationship with life when life is represented as a mysterious, unpredictable and insecure journey.
• Students benefit from the modeling offered by the teacher regarding what it means to be a pilgrim on an insecure journey.