“If you be a lover of instruction, you will be well instructed.”Isocrates
Sorry for the long silence on the blog, but many things have transpired in the last month, which have kept us very busy. For our first re-emergence into the blogging world, we would like to discuss a topic that has been a struggle for us here at Thessaly Temenos and for other groups around the world as well. That is to discuss the ideas of teaching and leadership. Many people who come to religious organizations are not just looking for spirituality in their lives, but are seeking to become teachers themselves one day. This is a divine calling and something that should never be taken lightly. Those who take on the mantle of teacher/leader are not blessed with privilege, but burdened with responsibility. Not only must a teacher/leader be knowledgeable in matters of the soul, but also in the psychology of the mind, personality conflicts, emotional outbursts, and a whole plethora of human conditions which, by their calling, they are obligated to teach others to control. So the problem that arises for many teachers/leaders is how to handle a situation when you have a student, who for all intents and purposes has the knowledge to become a teacher/leader but does not possess the skills necessary to handle the burden of the task.
This is always a delicate situation because skill is not necessarily something that can be quantified and measured, but something that is learned through experience. So how do they gather experience without being allowed to lead or teach? The solution that we have come to is that once a certain degree of knowledge is attained, the student becomes an apprentice to a qualified teacher/leader and is given a degree of responsibility without the actual authority. However, this sometimes causes conflict, because the student feels they are ready to lead and their ambition is to move forward. Many a group has been torn apart by over-zealous students who seek to lead before they are ready. This has happened on more than one occasion with Thessaly and will, no doubt, happen again in the future. Fortunately these splinter groups are usually very short-lived as the un-skilled leader lacks the ability to keep the group organized and orderly. But the damage that these splinterings can cause to those caught in the middle of it can be detrimental to other students who are sincerely seeking growth.
One of the hardest truths that we as human beings can ever learn is that truth of our own inadequacies. Not everyone is cut out to be a teacher or a leader. Most people do not want to accept this truth and they will fight tooth and nail to get what they want, which is completely the wrong way to approach the situation. Teaching religion, mysticism, or spirituality to others is something that takes years of practice and it requires a degree of selflessness and a willingness to give more than you take – qualities that are not existent in everyone. One of my favorite quotes from a movie is from the movie Gladiator, when Emperor Marcus Aurelius offers Maximus the honor of being protector of Rome upon his death. The aging Emperor looks to Maximus and asks, “Will you accept this honor which I offer?” Maximus lowers his head and says, “With all my heart, no.” The Emperor smiles and says, “That is why it MUST be you!” Marcus Aurelius knew that Maximus was the perfect leader for the simple reason that Maximus had no ambition to rule. He would not abuse the power given to him and understood the burden of leadership. Just like Socrates was deemed by the Oracle of Delphi to be the wisest man alive because he knew his own ignorance. To see our limitations allows us to continually strive to be better, which keeps us humble and makes us conscious of the struggles of others. It is when we think we have all the answers and are ready to lead that we fail to see the truth and we are leading both ourselves and others in a way that may not be the best. As a leader/teacher ask yourself, is it for the glory of the gods or for glorifying oneself that you take this task on? The propitiation of the religion and the customs and the glorification of the gods and bettering of the self should be the reasons for taking the mantle of the clergy/teacher/leader. If you are doing it because you want others to admire you, then you are not going to make a good leader.
Remember always to question your own motives, because as Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”