I have, for many years, labored under the delusion that the best teachers were those that got awards and children loved and talked about into their later years as remembering Mr. or Ms. So-and-so who inspired and believed and encouraged. I thought about those “Teacher of the Year” recipients as the ones who have imparted the greatest knowledge and wondered if I had been privileged enough to encounter more of them what my life would have been like. This was my delusion, as I stated previously, for so many years.
In my more recent times, I have come to realize that the teachers in our lives are not always pleasant, loveable, enjoyable, or painless. More often, sadly, it is the nature of human beings to learn as much from adverse stimulus as from pleasure (though, yes, I know that pleasure is more likely to create a stable pattern of behavior). The point being, I realized quite suddenly one day that some of the most unpleasant experiences of my life came with some remarkably powerful (if difficult) lessons.
What amazes me, consistently, is the way that people continue to replicate behaviors over and over expecting different results. Observing individuals run into the same brick wall over and over full tilt, even with people holding up signs, screaming, or trying to physically hold them back, has made me understand that gentle teachers cannot always make a difference until the subject is ready to learn. It is the definition of insanity, but they continue to do it. Over and over, they break themselves against an immovable obstacle… never noticing that they could walk around, or that there is a door in the middle.
But that wasn’t really where I was going with this. I wish that I was one of the people that seem to learn the lessons on the first try and enjoy the success. That doesn’t really seem to be how my brain works. Instead it seems that my brain only absorbs the lessons that life offers through the application of repeated beatings with sticks, figuratively.
What is worse is that I have had the opportunity to learn the lessons presented with less pain involved, but almost without exception, I find that the only way that the lessons truly take hold is with some dramatically unpleasant experience. I spent a lot of time resenting the “teachers” in my life, blaming them for my unhappiness and the memory of unpleasantness. I was angry, and I felt myself to be righteous in my anger towards those wielders of the educational stick (sometimes literally, for example the first grade teacher who broke the ping-pong paddle against my narrow back… yes, it happened. Corporal punishment was used in the stone age of my primary years). After a while (like maybe round about the end of my first abusive attempt at matrimony), I realized that the anger and resentment really wasn’t doing me any good and wasn’t making those who harmed me explode in large, impressive, Hollywood-style fireballs of glorious carnage (I guess I should have talked to Michael Bay about that?). Yes, you can tell I had some pent up rage going on. Point being? It was a waste of perfectly good emotional and cognitive energy. Sadly, even being able to let go of the negative emotions didn’t fix everything. It took one final stage before I truly got it.
For years, I had been told that I overestimate the emotional attachments of acquaintances. Not in a delusional, erotomanic way; more in the way of being open to new friendships and welcoming them into an almost familial acceptance. I think this goes back to my days of living in the military brat mentality. To survive, you either made friends intensely and fast, or you were antisocial and content to be alone. Obviously, these are the extremes, but I do believe that the experience of living overseas in a closed community and moving around about every three years changed how I viewed social acquaintances. It didn’t occur to me that my acceptance was one-sided. It was horribly naïve of me, I know. I’m a psychologist, after all. I have observed and counseled a variety of people over the years to remove themselves from damaging one-sided relationships where they were being used. Physician (or counselor), heal thyself!
One thing about the “teachers” is that if you are repeating the lesson, the learning aids get more and more obvious. Thanks to the many learning opportunities in my existence starting all the many years ago, I have finally learned a few things:
· Adults are fallible and sometimes cruel
· Human beings are indolent and typically will not go out of their way to inconvenience themselves only to benefit someone else
· Justice does not always mean a happy ending
· Being innocent does not always mean you escape punishment
· Being good doesn’t guarantee happiness or success or reward
· Loyalty is not always reciprocated
· Truth is not always believed
· People lie… a lot
· Pretty gets you more than smart (though smart lasts longer)
· The hardest worker will be rewarded with more work (if you have a task that needs to be done, look for a busy person)
· The good times are not when you find out who your friends are… It is when you are in need and at your darkest that you can see to weed out the users, fakers, and cheats. And more importantly? The truly hearty specimens of friendship are able to shine through the withering and choking vines.
· Being right sometimes sucks
· Generosity does not breed reciprocation, it merely renders the generous depleted (thanks, Shakespeare)
· Refusing help when you need it doesn’t make you strong
· People do not like change, especially when it means they can no longer predict outcomes or rely on someone to act the way they always have
· “Acting as if” works pretty darn well… (thanks, Aristotle)
Oh… and alcohol does not make people sing or dance better. That one is not as much a lesson I’ve been taught as an observation that I feel compelled to share whenever I have the opportunity.
This year has been especially enlightening due to several instances of having the curtain pulled back to reveal some rather devastating facts and severe disappointment in my own blindness: My horribly misplaced faith. This is all pretty dark, depressing, and cynical stuff. It isn’t all bad, though. I have been amazed and humbled by some of the truly beautiful, supportive, and decent people who were overshadowed by the more grandiose deceptions of others. Understated loyalty is a much stronger statement to me, now, than other more flamboyant displays, and resentment does absolutely nothing to assuage the pain of betrayal. These are just the lessons that I have been “taught.” I didn’t always want to learn these lessons. However, I will bless my “teachers” in hopes that if I have learned my lessons I will not have to repeat the grade.