Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Teaching, Time and Effectiveness

I'm sorry, dear Reader, for not writing as much in recent days, or months, as I have in the past. There have been some other things on my plate, such as writing a book and making my art, working at the University, not to mention time with my family, service to the community, participating in Baha'i activities, just to name a few. Oh yeah, and reading, playing some computer games, enjoying walks in nature: the list just goes on. The more I think about it, the more I realize just how little time we really have in our life.

It also makes me realize just how precious my time is, and how important it is to me to share the Faith as often and as effectively as possible.

And, as usual, I've thinking about this subject of teaching a lot lately, trying to figure out how to be more effective.

Aside: My son, Shoghi, is in first grade, and he has an agenda that he is supposed to bring to school every day. This is the main form of communication with his teacher, a simple note written each day in his agenda. A couple of nights ago my wife, Marielle, was putting everything in Shoghi's backpack for the next morning, and I told her to make sure that the agenda is clearly visible in his bag. "After all," I said, "we don't want him to have a hidden agenda."

Isn't that the truth, though? We have to be sure, when we are teaching, that we don't have a hidden agenda.

I have heard some Baha'is say that the real reason, our main goal, when inviting someone to a study circle, is to help them become Baha'i. Personally, I disagree. That may be their main purpose, but it is surely not mine, and I don't appreciate being lumped into that particular "our".

Why? Am I against people becoming Baha'i? Of course not. It is because that would be a hidden agenda, to me.

And this would make my ability to share the teachings that Baha'u'llah has given to the world far less effective.

So what, then, is my goal? To share these beautiful teachings. Plain and simple. I believe that these teachings, this view of the world, will make the world a far better place. And while I believe that it is imperative that the Baha'i community grow, in order to be able to exert a far more positive influence upon the world, I do not believe that we have the right to take away people's choice of their own path, which I feel we try to do when we have that hidden agenda.

I also believe that as we learn to more effectively share the message of Baha'u'llah with people, a certain percentage of them will naturally arise to embrace the Faith. Statistics seem to indicate this. And the more effective we are, the greater the percentage. but I don't believe it will ever be 100%, for everyone is at a different point in their journey in life.

Teaching, as I have alluded to many times in the past, is fairly straightforward, but very complex. There are not all that many steps involved, but knowing which particular step to take at any given moment is very difficult to ascertain. It is a subtle blending of both science and art, intellect and intuition, and we are all learning to be more and more effective at this.

Let me try and give and example: When I first began working at the university in the multifaith services office, some friends told me that I had to begin a study circle, a children's class, hold a devotional gathering, and so on. The problem was that there were no children that I encountered on campus, so a children's class was out. There was no one I had met who was even remotely interested in anything that smacked of yet another course or class. And there was very little interest amongst the students for anything like prayer, unless it was from their own particular tradition, such as Catholic mass at noon.

What to do? That was my question.

I talked with the students and they said that what they wanted was to learn meditation.Thus Meditation 101 was born, a drop-in session twice a week in which we explore some different styles of meditation, with the goal of helping them learn techniques that they can use at a moments notice. This was my goal, and this has been, according to the testimony of many participants, achieved. Not every technique works for everyone, but they are all willing to experiment, to test a method to see if it works, for if they don't try, they'll never know.

See the need, identify a remedy and offer it with love and sincerity. That is what works for me.

Now, that being said, I don't think it needs to stop there. While these friends have said that meditation is what they want, and it is what I am offering, I always explain how meditation is only half the equation to me. I often talk about the link between prayer and meditation, for that is my perspective and my understanding. After 9 months of mentioning this, a few of them are now beginning to ask about a devotional gathering. Also, to my shock and surprise, some of them have also now told me that their children are in neighbourhood Baha'i children's classes. Some have asked for personal advice, drawing on my services as an adviser on campus, and others have asked for more direct information about the Faith.

To each and every one of them I strive to meet their particular needs.

For some, all they need is someone to listen to them. They don't want to hear anything yet, but just want the opportunity to open up.

Some others just need someone to say a prayer with them. They may not want to study it, or discuss it, or even feel comfortable reading it themselves. They just want the comfort of someone praying for them, with no other intention brought into it.

A few may be interested in a particular subject, and we may have the opportunity to offer them some insights on that subject, say through a talk Ruhi Book 2, or some such. They might not be interested in religion, or anything else, and we have to meet them at the level of their interest.

Some may be very interested in discussing religion, both sharing their view and listening to ours. We have to be sure to give them a respectful amount of time for this. I don't say equal, for we shouldn't be concerned about the number of milliseconds. They may need to go on and on at great length before they are ready to listen, or they may be far more interested in hearing what we want to say (note that I don't say "have to say", for we don't HAVE to say anything), and want us to speak far longer than they do.

And then there are those few who are ready and want to hear about Baha'u'llah in a far more direct manner. We have to be ready to respond to those precious souls, for they may be the ones most likely to throw in their lot with the Faith, embrace it wholeheartedly, and arise to serve with all their heart and soul. We must, as the Universal House of Justice says so well, be ready to offer the teachings in a far more direct manner than we may have been comfortable in the past.

As our consciousness of this process increases, as we try, stumble, try again, succeed, fall, and try again, we will learn more and more about how to be more effective, especially if we reflect after every step. We will learn to teach more directly when appropriate, and we will better learn to perceive receptivity.

This is complex. It will take a lifetime as we become better and better at it. But as this all unfolds before us, it is truly beautiful to behold.

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