The Teachers in My Life
tom walsh


Ninety percent of the world's woe comes from people not knowing themselves, their abilities, their frailties, and even their real virtues.  Most of us go almost all the way through life as complete strangers to ourselves.

Sydney J. Harris

Who am I?  It's one of the eternal questions, isn't it?  And while I could answer the question to a certain extent, I know that I'd never be satisfied with the answer.  I'm a bundle of wants and needs and desires, and there's no way that words could ever express all that I am and feel.  Furthermore, I know that I've arrived at only a very basic knowledge of myself so far, and that even if I could live another century or two, I still probably wouldn't be completely satisfied with any answer that I could offer.

But I do want to know, and I consider one of my major purposes of being on this planet in the first place to be to try my best to learn as much as I can about who I am.  But how do I go about doing this?  Do I withdraw from the rest of humanity and lead a life of introspection and meditation, trying to delve deeper into myself?  I don't think so--I wasn't put on a planet full of people just to leave them all and forsake all they have to offer.  Or do I take class after class of philosophy and psychology and sociology and literature to try to learn how to analyze myself?  Again, I don't think so.  While such courses definitely have much to offer, they're still full of content that's not me--not my philosophy, not my ideas, not my slant on life, which is meant to be truly unique.

Which leads me to a sort of revelation that I've arrived at recently:  if I want to learn more about myself, I have to pay a great deal of attention to those people around me--family, friends, and colleagues--even strangers--and pay close attention to how they treat me.  For in their treatment of me lies the reflection of who I am.

Believe me when I say that I don't want this to be true.  Some people don't treat me very well, and at least in some cases, their treatment of me is a response to my treatment of them, either consciously or subconsciously.  I know that some people, though, act like--well, jerks, for lack of a better word--because of their own insecurities or problems, and that not everything is about me.  A person being rude to me isn't necessarily a reflection of who I am.

But that doesn't change the fact that sometimes it is.  One of my goals for my near future is to learn to understand people's reactions to me.  Are they glad to see me when we meet?  Are they willing to share with me things that have happened in their lives?  Are they willing to share their thoughts and ideas?  If not, do I tend to be too critical when people share ideas?  Or do I tend to be too analytical, and not accepting enough?

I know that there are many basic rules for dealing effectively with people, and I've broken many of those rules in my life.  Most of the time, I've broken the rules because of my own fears and insecurities--growing up in a military family, moving all the time, and having an alcoholic father certainly took their toll on me.  We never lived in one place long enough to develop long-term friendships, and I've always felt limited when it comes to developing friendships and relationships.

But if I want to be more effective at it, I need to pay attention to my most important teachers--the people who are in my world with me.  My colleagues at school, my family, the people I know at church and other places, and my friends all give me very valuable input every time I interact with them, yet I have to be conscious of that fact if I'm to learn from them.  If I truly wish to know who I am, I have to learn at least part of the answer from the people who deal with me.  I have to keep my eyes and ears open, and I have to be open to the idea that I'm not going to like all of the answers that I get.  Not everyone likes me, and if I can learn why that's so, I can work to change the unlikable qualities of my self.

Why would I want to pay so much attention to this?  Mostly because I firmly believe that true happiness is to be found through serving others, and if people aren't comfortable with me or if they dislike me, there's little chance that I'll ever be able to serve them effectively.  There's little chance that I'll be able to have even the slightest possible influence on their lives for good.

I don't want to fight to be popular, and I don't kid myself that I can be liked by everyone.  But I do know that if I pay attention to the teachers who are with me, I can become a happier person and lead a fuller, more fulfilling life.  We have to pay attention if we're to learn anything at all, and it would be a shame to have so many great teachers around me all the time and not learn any of the lessons they have to teach me about myself. 


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