Thursday, October 3, 2013

WAYS 6 – THE TEACHER

Motto: In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.
Albert Einstein (attributed)

Twenty-one years ago, on a nice October day, I stepped into the big festivity room of the Academy of Economic Science, where the official opening of the university year was held. I was a fresh(wo)man. After the usual opening words from the Academy officials, Professor Doctor Anghel Rugina was introduced to the audience, as a prominent American Economist of Romanian origin. He was 79-years-young back then (he died in 2008, at the age of 95).

It was the first time I have heard about this guy, however after I listened to his very short speech, I knew I would remember him for the rest of my life. He told us to value every moment of the university years ahead and to pay attention to all our teachers, no matter how we judge them – good or bad, strong or weak. He said we should always have in mind that there is much to learn also from the bad teachers; from them, we learn how we should NOT be in our future life. And sometimes such learning may prove more valuable than the positive one.

Later on, I discovered during a Six Sigma training that one of the most powerful methods of brainstorming is practicing the negative thinking. It is very useful especially when you hit a dead end in terms of solutions. You challenge the participants to think of anything which can make the situation worse than it is. Negative creativity is far more imaginative than positive one. And then, you identify those actions which, by reversing the idea, have potential to become constructive solutions.

My dear friend Peter (the ‘owner’ of this English blog who is generous enough to host my postings here), is another fervent supporter of the constructive power of the word ‘NO’.  He has developed a sensational set of rules for problem solving. Most of those rules I apply in my day to day life. Peter had found supporters of his ideas worldwide and thus they helped him translate those rules in many languages. You can look for a version in your own language here.

I come back to the learning process now. That October day in 1992 marked one of the most important lessons for me, even thou Prof. Dr. Rugina was never on my university curriculum. Another memorable day was when I realized that the ‘Golden Rule’ which was instilled to me as a child would be better applied in its ‘Platinum’ version. More exactly, not only you should not do to others what you would not like them do to you, but you should basically do to others what they would like to be done to them (something like first observe, then empathize and only in the end actually deliver).

I would stop here with examples of my past learning, as it would be totally unfair to mention some great teachers from my life and omit others. Therefore I will mention none. It suffices to say that I consider myself extremely lucky, as I have had the opportunity to learn from everyone and everything that surrounds me. I have been learning from family and school, work place and nature, friends and foes, dreams and reality alike.

Why do I consider ‘the teacher’ as one of the ways we have to focus on, so that we can get ahead? I believe no extensive arguments are needed. It is obvious for most of the people that the current worldwide situation (which I am not sure we should even call ‘crisis’ any more) is deeply rooted in the moral hazard that has gradually swamped most of the inhabitants of this world.

I do not believe that we will solve our moral dilemmas by splitting the world into 99% vs. 1% - the poor and pure vs. the rich and rotten. No one is free from moral hazard. Almost any man or woman in this world is exposed daily to temptation, corruption and sin. The difference between the 99% and the 1% is the type of temptation they face – more or less expensive. Mankind is full of sinners and saints, liars and truth-holders, with a rather reasonable distribution on all regions, religions, professions and income levels.

There is of course one significant difference, which is that the 1% decides on taxes and laws, respectively distribution of wealth and punishment. And they do so, basically as they please. But in this respect we should wake up and see reality for what it is. It was always like this. There were always kings and servants, nobles and peasants, generals and troopers, priests and sinners. There was always a reasonable middle class, providing services to whoever could afford them, and there were always taxes and duties.

What got really complicated in the past decades was the increasing interdependence between democratic systems (which need electors to legitimate their rulers) and financial systems. In theory, each democratic system is based on separation of powers. In practice, they are all interconnected and fueled by one circulatory system, which is the financial system – the blood that irrigates all the state organs in the contemporary society. And also in practice, there is no humanly operated system which is immune to moral hazard. Everyone started to bend moral rules in order to get what they targeted – some wanted power, other wanted profit, most of them wanted both.

I believe everybody has heard of the little Golden Fish (you know… the one who can make dreams come true!) or of Aladdin’s lamp. In the past decades, the financial system assumed this fairy-tale role for whoever wanted to make a wish come true. Car, house, political or legal power, and so on. Some had smaller and other had bigger dreams. As you know, some things cannot be bought… for everything else there is xxxx (will not mention the credit card provider, but you get the point).

Therefore, we have nice theoretical separation of powers and nice theoretically functional macroeconomics and nice theoretically working financial systems. Practically, informal systems were born from the interaction of the initially planned theoretical ones. And they started to grow and lead a life of their own, just like tumors in an apparently healthy body. Doctors only noticed when it was too late. It is metastatic already.

It is hard to tell which system has sinned more and who is to blame for what. All the ‘systems’ which should be theoretically functional are practically as good as their human operators. Just as it happens with machines and company – their lives depend on the quality of the people behind them.

And thus I finally get to the point of this Way edition: why do we need to redefine our Teachers? 

Because we cannot kill our systems. It would be like a mass suicide, as they are actually our working places, our source of income, our future education and health service systems. We need to re-adapt them to a practically functional reality, in a way which is acceptable to our moral standards.

Communities cry out nowadays that their educational systems are failing. Unfortunately, they seem to refer purely to the organized school, college and university education; however I would like to go one step further. I would also blame it on what Peter likes to call it the new religion – Moneyteism. 

And specifically on one of its Gods - the Career God. It is killing most of our teachers. Families are dying because of lack of focus on personal time (while home education is crucial for a successful school impact). A large number of managers do not follow a teaching path because of the perceived competition. They are afraid to lose power and thus they keep information and prevent knowledge sharing. They are afraid that their own people may learn too fast and shine too much when (alas!), they should know that people reflect their light upon their teachers. By suffocating talent within a team, managers are basically getting in the way of their own future development. Good managers should spot talents and encourage them to learn as much as possible, regard them not as threats but as opportunities. The talent pool can either provide successor ship (and thus set their manager free, to further expand their own career) or can become peers in other important areas of the organization and create an ideal network for their former teachers and colleagues. A manager, who treats the people as potential future stars, is on the way to own personal growth.

Is then the Career God a bad God for us? I believe not. I believe that if we start seeing It as a Teacher we can improve our life as a whole – both professional and personal side. And the same goes for other Moneyteistic Gods. If we learn good things from them and not let them rule us, we can live a fulfilling life.

I will end my post today with a common sense question: WHO should be the Teacher of tomorrow?
The short answer is: me, you, us together. And we should be also pupils at the same time, all our lives. Because we have to walk before we can run, we have to learn before we can teach, and we have to be proud to have lived before we can die in peace.

We are the teachers of our families (husbands and wives, kids, parents, other relatives), of our work places (colleagues and bosses), of our friends and our enemies equally. We are good teachers and bad teachers in one and the same body, because we cannot be saints all the time - we are merely humans. We should not be afraid of this but embrace our nature, while remembering all the time that WE ARE THE TEACHERS. 

The people around us will learn both from the good stuff and the bad, how they should and how they should not be - every day! Sometimes they will get it wrong, misunderstand our ways and misjudge our actions. But we should never give up being ourselves, with the permanent knowledge that we are the masters of our life and the teachers of our fellow people. And as such, we need to live our life so we can smile when we see ourselves in the mirror – every day.

All the best,

Georgina Popescu

5 comments:

  1. True. Touching. Transformational.
    If only those who currently hold the position could selflessly fathom the importance of your words and look into the future of their own society. Teachers (as correctly broadly defined herein) are the fertilizers of our world tomorrow.

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  2. Wise words both to the teacher and manager -- and especially apt is the reminder that we are viewed ultimately in the light we emit, reflected back upon us. When we train others to observe, everything we do teaches, and our stumblings often provide the greater moral lesson, for they demonstrate consequences. Thanks, Georgina, for another memorable essay.

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  3. Thank you all for the nice words and smiles... :-)

    Bob - you are one of my wisest models of Teacher - please continue to give us our (at least) weekly learning on http://www.robertbrault.com/

    I am honored to have such readers!

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