Way #46: Learn In Order To Teach
If you know something worthwhile, share it. By reaching others, you will reach yourself.
Whatever you learn – from books, lectures, or life experience – do so with the goal of sharing with others. If it was fascinating, how did it change you? What did it teach you about living? And how can you transfer that insight to others?
Way #46 is ha'lomed al minat li'lamed – literally "learn in order to teach." Don't grow only for yourself. If it's worthwhile, share it.
To effectively communicate what you've learned:
- Define it clearly. What is the essential point?
- Understand it fully. Is there any point that I'm not clear on?
- Know how to transmit it. How can I best explain this to others?
- Put it into practice. To whom do I teach it?
Make this an automatic process, so that whenever you learn something new, you instantly think how to convey it.
If It's Worth Learning, It's Worth Sharing
We don't want to live just for ourselves. As part of humanity, we want to be the one to "break the news." Is it the quest for fame? I don't think so. If you had information to change the course of history, you'd share it even anonymously.
Imagine you're walking down the street and meet a space alien. He says, "I have come from a faraway galaxy to communicate an important message to earthlings." What's the first thing you'll do? "I have to tell everyone about this! What universe did you say you come from? How do you spell your name? Let me see those tentacles, do they really work?"
You begin weighing, thinking, analyzing, and focusing – all because you have an audience waiting for your words.
Apply this technique to all life experiences. If you're returning from a vacation, think about what message you want to convey to your friends back home. Whatever you're doing – at the zoo, a wedding, or reading the newspaper – keep asking yourself: What is the value of this information? What does this teach me about life?
Then ask: Who else could benefit from this concept, and how can I teach it to them?
Don't waste any opportunity. The next time you go to a concert, imagine you're a music critic for The New York Times. Everyone is eagerly awaiting your comments. They're going to translate it into Russian and Chinese. Do you see how this will affect your experience? Every wave of the baton, every crash of the cymbal will have your rapt attention. You're invigorated!
Role play, pretending you have to teach it in a lecture to 1,000 people. How will you summarize the main points? In what way do you agree or disagree with the conclusion?
Create Opportunities To Teach
You're on an airplane, seated next to a stranger. And we all know how boring that can be! Yet what a great opportunity to discuss your perspective on an important issue. Of course, you have to warm up the conversation. Try this technique: Share a difficulty you're having with the issue, and ask for advice. You'd have no trepidation about walking down the street and asking a stranger for directions.
So say: "I was thinking about this issue. Can you help me understand it?" Everybody likes to give advice. And in the ensuing discussion, you'll be able to explain your own ideas in full, and you may well learn something in return!
Anticipate opportunities to teach – whether you're in line at the bank, or eating lunch with friends. You can even invite people over with the express purpose of meaningful conversation. Be creative. The possibilities are endless.
This is not to suggest turning all your friends and family into guinea pig students. But it does mean recognizing in advance how you can impact others in a positive way.
You Don't Have To Be Perfect To Teach
The idea of teaching makes many people uncomfortable. We may feel inadequate: Who am I to teach? I don't know enough yet. I'm far from perfect myself!
These are rationalizations. Because in fact, nobody is perfect.
The best teachers make mistakes; more at the beginning, less later on. It's like riding a bike or driving a car – the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Nobody ever became a great teacher without flopping a few times.
How do you get practice? Go teach!
The first time, you'll probably be laughed at. But don't be discouraged. (Be glad they didn't curse you!) Try again. The second time they'll argue with you. That's a good sign already; you've got them engaged. The third time they'll thank you. That makes all the previous efforts worth it.
The same way a budding artist needs to study under the masters, a teacher needs to study the methods of great educators. If you have a favorite teacher (or journalist, actor, etc.) be conscious of their techniques for communicating the message.
But don't wait until you're perfect – because that's a long way off! Just get started and teach as best you can. It will do wonders to help clarify your own viewpoint.
Do People Want To Learn?
You might say: I'll wait until people ask for advice, then I'll teach them.
If someone was bleeding on the street, you wouldn't wait until he asks for help. Even if he says, "No, leave me alone," you won't walk away as he bleeds to death, saying, "Oh well, he doesn't want my help anyway." You'll help regardless, and try to get him to cooperate.
People who need the most help are often the last to ask. So be proactive. If your friend is having marital problems, tactfully offer to help. Don't wait until he says, "Please, do me a favor, open my eyes." Because you aren't going to hear that song for a long, long time!
You wouldn't pass by someone bleeding. It's no different when someone is miserable and depressed.
Develop a Repertoire of Teaching
Keep an inventory of what you know. Organize it, and you'll be able to teach the proper things at the proper time.
To develop a repertoire, ask yourself the following questions:
- What are people fascinated by?
- What is crucial for people to know?
- Which ideas do I know best?
- What have I learned about life's bumps and knocks?
Become a specialist. Identify an area you've learned in depth, and try to perfect it.
Constantly update, expand and improve your repertoire. Keep your ideas fresh. If you're excited about the material, your audience will be, too.
To make this concept more real, try writing an ethical will. "Dear Child: Now that I am 'X' years old, here are the important things I've learned about living."
Imagine CNN is interviewing you about the most important things you've learned in life. What would you answer? Search inside yourself for the five most important things you know. It's a painful process, but it's crucial to understanding yourself.
And one day you'll want to teach wisdom to your children.
Formalize The Process
We learn a phenomenal amount every day. Yet we're not in contact with it's value, so it gets lost. We get swallowed up in a lot of nonsense, a lot of zombie-ism, and the good stuff goes down the drain.
To help you separate the wheat from the chaff, write things down, as a sort of diary. There are different ways of keeping a diary. One person describes events: "Johnny fell off his bike today." Another writes as if communicating with an imaginary friend: "Dear Diary, I was very insulted today…"
The idea of a diary is to clarify: How did I grow today? And how can I articulate this to someone else?
To solidify your approach for teaching, review what you've learned while it's still fresh in your mind. Before you go to sleep at night, write down five pieces of wisdom, five insights, five items of growth. Doing this means you're awake, you're growing.
WHY IS "LEARNING IN ORDER TO TEACH" A WAY TO WISDOM?
- When you learn in order to teach, you gain greater clarity about what's floating through your mind.
- If something is worth learning, it's worth sharing.
- Make sure you learn something new every day. If you haven't learned, you haven't grown.
- Every night, ask yourself: "How can I teach what I learned today?"
- Knowing you'll have to teach gives you more power in understanding, analysis, attention and motivation. Use it!
- Teaching wisdom is the Jewish national mission to be a "light unto the nations."