Sunday, July 24, 2011

Spirituality 13

Learning by Imitation

Self with students on a school outing to Glendalough
At the beginning of our lives I believe we all learn quite a bit by imitating the example of others, especially those of significant others in our lives.  However, learning by imitation is a two-edged sword, because we also learn the faults and errors of our teachers as well as their good qualities and good habits.

I remember one of my erstwhile education teachers Dr. Bernadette MacMahon, D.C., telling us that one of the first systems of teacher education or training involved a sort of apprenticeship, as well as formal lectures, where the young teacher spent a number of months in a classroom helping and learning from the "expert" teacher.  This system, she called the "Learning with Jenny" model of teacher training.  The obvious disadvantage of this system was that the young trainee learnt the so-called expert's "weaknesses" as well as "strengths."  The student teacher more often than not, like the apprentice, will learn the expert teacher's or tradesman's mistakes without questioning them.  However, Dr. MacMahon still believed that old system had a lot going for it, too, as it enabled the younger initiate to grow in confidence as a professional.  I'm ad unum with the learned lecturer here.

The Hazards of Imitation

13th century illustration: assasssination of Thomas a Becket
Murder in the Cathedral, (first performed 1935), that wonderful play by T.S. Eliot, recounts the murder of the great English saint Thomas a Becket.   The action occurs between December 2 and December 29, 1170 and chronicles the days leading up to the martyrdom of Thomas following his absence of seven years in France. Becket's internal struggle is the main focus of the play.  He wants to do the right thing for the right reason, not the right thing for the wrong reason.  In other words Eliot, through his character Becket, is making the point that our motivation in anything we do is important, even more important than the action itself, though that is sometimes hard to believe. (It is interesting to note that this play, dealing with an individual's opposition to authority, was written at the time of rising Fascism in Central Europe, and it can be taken as a call to individuals in affected countries to oppose the Nazi regime's subversion of the ideals of the Christian Church.)  In the following story from de Mello on imitation or the hazards of imitation, we learn the same lesson as Beckett and Eliot had deeply understood - motivation is all!


Imitation by Anthony de Mello

After the Master attained enlightenment he took to living simply - because he found simple living to his taste. 

He laughed at his disciples when they took to simple living in imitation of him.

"Of what use is it to copy my behaviour," he used say, "without my motivation.  Or to adopt my motivation without the vision which produced it?

They understood him better when he said:

"Does a goat become a rabbi because he grows a beard?"

(One Minute Wisdom, p. 75)

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