“Provide yourself a teacher, acquire for yourself a companion, and judge all men favorably” (Avos 1:6)
“Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.” With these brilliant words, Hellen Keller captured the secret to fulfilling our mission in this world: to constantly be learning the lessons “life” has to teach us. Learning is living. Learning is fulfillment. Learning is happiness. Things that seem irrelevant today can be the key to tomorrow’s success. Today’s disappointments and failures can hold the secret to tomorrow’s victories. Today’s mistakes can be the tools for the triumphs of tomorrow.
To become a “learner”, however, requires that one finds for him/herself the proper teachers. There are three categories of teachers one must strive to have, and each category provides lessons the other ones cannot:
1) Our mentors- The people who we admire, who inspire us, whose positive energy is so contagious that we just want to be better people when we are around them. It is these teachers who challenge us to envision ourselves being greater than we currently are, and motivate us to live those visions.
2) Our friends and family- The people we trust and share our secrets with. Those loved ones who can tell from the look in our eyes if we had a good day or a bad day, if we are happy or down, confident or scared. The ones who know they can smack us on the back of our heads when we get out of line, and who will shower us with praise when we meet our successes. They are the fuel that constantly keeps us heading in the right direction.
3) The people that make us uncomfortable-This category might possibly be the most valuable on of all. Believe it or not, they are the people we really don’t like being around at all. It’s those who make us a little tense, who do the little things that get under our skin, acts that we frown upon, and display character traits we view as negative. Those are the ones who can be our greatest teachers. Allow me to explain.
There is a well-known proverb that “others are only mirrors of you”. This idea can be explained both from a psychological standpoint and a spiritual standpoint. Psychologically speaking, we only love and hate things in other people according to what we love and hate about ourselves. A character trait that we ourselves don’t possess won’t affect us when we see it in someone else. Therefore when we see a flaw in someone else and it bothers us, e.g. “he’s so irresponsible”, “she’s so into herself”, we must ask the question, is there something that is really bothering me about myself that I am just projecting onto this person?
Spiritually speaking, the Almighty in his infinite perfection designed the world in a way that a person’s surroundings are tailor made to convey the lessons that one has to learn. As the Baal Sham Tov would say, “Nowadays, even though God doesn’t speak to us face to face, he is always speaking to us from behind”. When we see something that bothers us, He is sending us a personal message. When someone gives us a criticism and our knee-jerk reaction is to blow it off as illegitimate, we have to realize that for some reason or another, the Almighty wanted us to hear these words.
Life is a constant learning experience. To experience it right we need to find the right teachers. And very often those teachers might be the most unlikely of people.