So What?

Posted on April 10, 2011


I love a lot of things, but few things more than teaching. There is something transcendent about personal discovery that you carefully fashion so that someone else can also experience that exhilaration, that suddenly widening view. So I would more accurately say that I love it when that happens. Unfortunately, more times than not, that oneness of teacher and learner completely eludes me when I’m the one standing. A student with a voracious love of learning, that disconnect when I am on the other side is a profoundly bitter disappointment to me.

Today, after yet another failure, I figured out why, and what to do about it. I have the blessing of fasting to thank for it, because I’ve been puzzling this out for a very long time and never seen clearly the answer until now. True to the Lord’s way of working, it applies beyond those moments when I’m teaching a class and extends to every important message I will ever again deliver.

You probably don’t have this problem, because most of the rest of the world is much more practical than I am. When I hear an interesting thing, I think, “WOW – did you know that? I didn’t KNOW that!” and it is worthwhile because it’s this interesting little thing that I’ll do something with someday. I’m still like a child, picking up smooth rocks and bits of colored glass and feathers and sticking them in my pockets, while the rest of the world is asking the question that makes real communication work.

Sometimes I see it on the faces of people in my classes, when I’m displaying my collection of treasures. Other times, I know well enough that the class won’t tolerate my rapturous “oh neat!” and I have to focus. When I taught youth, that was definitely the case, as also when I taught seminars on subjects unrelated to religion. But I didn’t consciously know that I was tailoring my message to answer the question every one of them had.

Why Does This Matter?

Today it clicked that nothing is useful until we know what it’s good for. I tend to think everything’s good for something, a potentially maddening view that I probably inherited from my eccentric, collector father. Most of the rest of the world lives an organized existence in which everything around them, or in their minds, will be used shortly, and they have a specific use intended for it. My world is cluttered with shiny rocks and glass and feathers that I’m constantly moving around in different arrangements. How frustrating for someone else to try to extract usefulness from that!

When people come to learn, they should be able to walk away with solid, usable principles or practices, or at least be inspired to recommit to the ones they already have. That’s challenging with religion, because everything important really boils down to the Basic Ten Answers to Every Gospel Question. How often can you say, “charity, faith, prayer, fasting, … okay, go home and get better at it”? That’s what needs to happen, but it isn’t very inspiring or interesting. Others are better at putting together emotionally-stirring wonders in a classroom or a lesson or a conference. I often find myself reading the notes in my scriptures when I ought to be busy being stirred to greater action.

But today, I finally got it. You can give people a bit of beautifully colored glass, if you suggest some ways they can incorporate it into the decor of their life. The question written on every teen’s face while we chatter away is the best thing to confront ourselves with, every time we open our mouths. “SO WHAT? Why should what you’re saying mean anything to me?”

A truly great teacher, and a truly great communicator, can answer that question, and does.

Did I know this? Of course. I’ve gotten lazy puttering in my treasure box. But I’m putting myself to the challenge. I may have less to say in the future, but hopefully it will more frequently inspire a widening view, no matter what we’re talking about.

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