Because they inspire you

Because they inspire you

PAY IT FORWARD

Because they inspire you

In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus, king of Ithaca, asks his friend (rather aptly named Mentor) to raise his son, Telemachus, while the king is off to the Trojan War. This, Mentor does, with much love and wisdom. The story goes that a good 20 years later, when Telemachus embarks on the quest to find out what actually happened to his father, Athena, the goddess of wisdom and war, disguises herself as Mentor to reunite the father-son duo.

Over the years, the word mentor has come to mean teacher, guide, counsellor, someone who’s willing to invest time and energy in sharing his/her knowledge with others. While most of our mentors may not resemble Mentor from Odyssey any more than we resemble Telemachus, all of them have two things in common – love and wisdom.

It’s to express gratitude for these qualities, among many others, that September
5 – the birthday of Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, noted academician and beloved teacher – is observed as Teacher’s Day in India. Somehow, we tend to think only of those who taught us in school and college as teachers. But isn’t learning supposed to be a life-long thing?

Some mentoring relationships could have been formed professionally
(for instance, your boss), others moulded on arbitrary crossing of paths on the long road of life. Call them teachers, mentors or guides, help us mould our thinking and actions, while changing our view of the world.

Saying thank you

Go back in time and think of all the people who have spent more than a passing moment in shaping you – the one who helped you shade those drawings in your Biology record book, the one who urged you to put your name up for the new project at work.
The name that comes to my mind

almost immediately is Gilbert Bose. I met him over two decades ago as my father’s Math and Physics teacher from Boys’ High School, Allahabad. Over the years, Mr Bose (as we called him) went on to become more of a father-figure – seeing me off to my first job interview and forcing me to get my passport done soon after.

On a conversation about teachers who changed the way we view certain subjects, I was pleasantly surprised to hear a friend’s brother (now a successful business head) talk about Mr Bose. Apparently, he was someone who just about passed Math, but ended up topping the school. A short ‘search engine moment’ later, I find that ours are not the only lives the teacher touched. Here was a man who chose to spend his twilight years as a founder member of New Millennium School on the outskirts of Bengaluru and as founder principal of Devprayag Public School in Allahabad, instead of leisurely sipping on his tea post-retirement, as he watched the world go by from his balcony.

At major milestones in my life, he was there, and now that I have offspring of my own, I wish he was still around to impart that love for numbers like he did for my father and me. We all need an inspiration like that. For Anchana John it came in the form of her first boss, Annie Inasu, who taught her all there was to know about dealing with primary school children and the psychology behind dealing with parents. It made her a better teacher and human being, she says.

Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo, has admitted, “If I hadn’t had mentors, I wouldn’t be here today. I’m a product of great mentoring, great coaching... Coaches or mentors are very important. They could be anyone – your husband, other family members, or your boss.”

Giving is receiving

If you are looking for some inspiration, watch Mr Holland’s Opus, the story of an aspiring composer and musician (Oscar-winning performance by Richard Dreyfuss) who takes up a teaching job at a local high school to make ends meet when his wife becomes pregnant. After finding out that his son is deaf, accompanied with the disappointment of his failing musical
career, it’s only in the end that Holland
finally figures out that his greatest
composition was not a fancy symphony but the world he created with the realities of his students.
A particularly memorable scene is the one where a grown-up Gertrude Lange says, “Mr Holland had a profound influence on my life and on a lot of lives I know. But I have a feeling that he considers a great part of his own life misspent.

Rumour had it he was always working on this symphony of his. And this was going to make him famous, rich, probably both. But Mr Holland isn’t rich and he isn’t famous, at least not outside of our little town. So it might be easy for him to think himself a failure. But he would be wrong, because I think that he’s achieved a success far beyond riches and fame. Look around you. There is not a life in this room that you have not touched, and each of us is a better person because of you. We are your symphony, Mr Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. We are the music of your life.”

Perhaps, there are a lot of teachers and mentors who identify with Holland. The influence that some people have on our lives isn’t always tangible. So, it’s important to say it out loud. Tell them what they have done for you, what they mean to you.

In their book Mentoring: The Tao of Giving and Receiving Wisdom, Chungliang Al Huang and Jerry Lynch talk of how mentoring is often at “that particular crossroads in life where what you have to offer meets the immediate and future needs of another. Therein lies the enormous exultation that is yours – that of giving your gift of wisdom and having it graciously appreciated and received by others who then carry the gift to all those within the sphere of influence.”

So, here’s some food for thought: how many people do you have to feel grateful for, for their generous gifts of mentoring? And more importantly, how many people have you been a mentor to? Today is as good a day as any to take a moment to thank all those who have invested their time and energy in mentoring you, who cared enough to think beyond themselves, who saw your potential, even when you didn’t. But please don’t stop there. After you make that call to thank your mentor, reach out to somebody you think could do with a little guidance. Pay it forward; pass on the gift of mentoring. For giving is far more rewarding than receiving.

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