Changing Social Lives: The Influence of Teachers
I once had relations with a man who equated having multiple sexual partners with muddy water. We all start off with a clear glass of water. Every partner adds drops of different colors and flavors into the water. The more partners we take on during the course of our lives, the darker the water becomes. He was using this metaphor as a teaching aid to preach to the youth Bible study group he was volunteering for. Although he was most certainly not practicing what he was preaching (his relationship with me was proof enough of that), he found a way to communicate his personal beliefs and the way he felt based on his experiences to provide what he believed to be a positive message. The message was clear and with good intent: to stay spiritually pure, do not have sex until you find your one and only 'til death do you part. The unintentional message the children learned: people who have sex are dirty.
Everyone is capable of being a teacher. The truth of the glass of water metaphor is that it does not apply to sexual partners alone. Every individual we come into contact with for any length of time adds drops of color and flavor into our water. Modern psychology teaches us that nurture (our physical and social environments) play at least an equal role in our cognitive development and personality as nature (genetics). Two individuals going through the same experience do not always share the same lesson. Thus, those who interacted with individual A will have learned something completely different than those who interacted with individual B.
Unlike those we simply meet on the train or view as a peer, those in the role of teacher are especially influential. When we have knowledge and experience in an area that another does not and we wish to share that knowledge and experience with them, we act as teachers. When this takes place in a more formal setting (ex: classroom, study group, tutoring, parent/child, etc.), the student looks to the teacher as a source of wisdom. The teacher is no longer in a position of "this is what I believe; take it or leave it as you will." Instead, the teacher's words are considered truth. Like sponges, the students will take in everything the teacher says even if those things are disclosed as purely personal beliefs not to be regarded as facts. The drops of color and flavor from teachers are much larger and in higher quantity than from others.
Considering the importance of teachers in our lives, there can be no doubt that what a teacher preaches will have a direct impact on our social lives. In general, teachers have the best of intentions for their students. When personal experiences and beliefs are interjected into the curriculum, the teacher's intent may be no more than to help illustrate the course material in a way the students can relate to. However, a student may focus on the personal beliefs of their teacher and adopt them into his or her own personal belief system. This can completely change how the student interacts with others and views the world.
In the case of the man with the glass of water metaphor, he wanted only to provide a positive message of the spiritual benefits of celibacy. However, student perceptions interacted with his message to create a different message. Rather than understanding that biological and hormonal effects of sexual intercourse can lead to problems when an individual is not ready for the experience and that recognizing being "ready" takes time and consideration, the students understood that the act of sex makes one dirty no matter the circumstances. This can create a negative mindset of taking away compassion for rape victims or for acceptance of a widow or widower to take on a new spouse. It also implies that anyone who chooses a different lifestyle is wrong. A message that was meant to illustrate a suggested way of life turned into a message of discrimination.
Fortunately, the other truth of the glass of water metaphor is that the colors and flavors do not always blend. The water never becomes muddy. Rather, the experiences we have with others will stay separate or blend together to form more beautiful colors and delightful flavors as our needs in life dictate. Our water was never meant to stay clear. If it were, we would never leave the comfort of the arms of our mother and take a step into the world. Teachers have a strong influence over students, and those students may take the preachings of their teachers to new levels. Likewise, a student may recognize the personal beliefs for what they are, absorb the drops of color into their water, and move on without changing. Teachers do need to possess a level of awareness when sharing personal beliefs and experiences if only to be aware of how their message may be misinterpreted. However, the changes that take place in one's social life are purely the result of the combination of all colors and flavors in one's glass. We change because we choose to change no matter whose influence we focus on the most.
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- A Teacher's Influence - Private School Review
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© 2011 Evylyn Rose