I was recently asked this question by a couple of women who are doing a project about teachers who have made a difference in people's lives--not just academic teachers, but anyone who has taught us a memorable lesson. I responded with this:
- One of the most influential teachers I have ever had is my younger sister, Becky Abbot. Becky was born with mental retardation, and for much of her childhood was institutionalized, in foster care, or in group homes. Her early life was not easy, and she underwent many experiences I can't even imagine. But somehow, she has managed to keep her faith that people are good, that everyone she meets is a potential friend, and that there is pure joy everywhere you look, in every experience you have--even the bad ones. She now lives independently, works a regular job, and has an infinitely better social life than I do.
I'm the kind of person who likes to dwell on what-ifs and should-have-beens, and I like to beat myself up over the past. Becky just says, "Oh, my sister Sue, you're so funny!," laughs her infectious laugh, and shows me just how rewarding living in the moment can be. She teaches me to trust in people, and in life. She teaches me that whatever happens is what's meant to happen; it's up to you to figure out the lesson in the experience and then move on. Or not figure it out and move on anyway. She teaches me that the true test of a person is not in their intellect, or social status, or any of that horse puckey--it's in how you touch other people as you dance through life. And how you let them touch you. And, of course, that bowling is the ultimate in fun, even if I stink at it.
Another excellent teacher I had was a girl I'll call Leslie D., who in 7th grade daily threatened to beat me up after school. I didn't even know her, or her friends, but she hated my guts for some reason. While I lived in fear and never traveled alone for a while, she taught me an important lesson--that it's not all about me. Sometimes, people will treat me in ways that have nothing to do with my intrinsic worth, or anything at all to do with me. They have their own reasons and motivations that I may never know, or understand (she told me it was because she hated my face, whatever that means).
While I still struggle with this, especially when I get treated in ways I don't believe I deserve--I seldom complain when I get kudos I don't deserve, but that's another story!--it's important to remember that people come into situations with their own perspective, and none of us see any given situation or person the same way, since we're looking through different lenses. And that life isn't fair.
I could go on and on (Mrs. Hermann from 8th grade English--your influence was so profound it would take a book to do you justice!), but I'd rather hear your stories about people who have taught you important lessons for your work, your life, or whatever is important to you. Please drop your story in the comments area and share with the rest of us those who have helped to shape who you are.