Order a Starbuck’s coffee, try to pick out a mustard brand in the supermarket, apply to college and you see how our culture is more and more about choice. You can be a gluten-free kosher macrobiotic vegan with a peanut allergy and expect any restaurant to cater to your needs because, by gosh, you are an individual with your own preferences and likes and dislikes and they deserve to be honored! And up to a certain point, I agree. They do. Up to a point.
But while some choice is certainly preferable to no choice, choice in and of itself is not the whole story. And it is certainly not a guarantee that just because all the needs that you think you have are met that now you will be happy. What’s more important—and more rare—is the experience of being chosen, not to satisfy the needs you think you have, but to fulfill the promise you didn’t even know you had or were only dimly aware of. Until somebody, that rare being in our culture, noticed you and took the time to tap you on the shoulder and beckon you to step onto a path you hadn’t wholly considered or in some cases, even knew existed.
At the recent conference, I went to three different workshops given by Orff teachers I had trained and shared a workshop teaching with a fourth. In each case, I gave them feedback at the end, affirming what worked well and asking them to consider small little changes that would have big effects. (Apparently they did in their second workshop and it indeed made a difference).
There’s much confusion in our culture about a mentor, often using that word to describe a colleague, a friend, a coach, an advisor. People sign up for mentor programs and either are randomly assigned a mentor and choose one from a list. But in the real sense of that word, it is the mentor who chooses based on seeing the promise in a student. The mentor has the capacity to do so because he or she is crystal clear about what is required in the craft they have mastered—or at least what is necessary to begin crafting in the style of the mentor, knowing that the student will eventually find their own voice. And should.
In my own school, I started an Intern Program in which 4 to 6 teachers get to shadow and spend time with James, Sofia and myself, watch our classes, participate in some, teach a bit in some and then teach a few whole classes on their own while we observe. It’s one of the most satisfying trainings I’ve been involved in and I’d like to think that at the end of the four months, each of the Interns is a better teacher than when we began. James, Sofia and myself all indeed have good material, processes, perspectives, pedagogies to offer them and good advice as to how to refine the details of the craft as we watch them teach. But we are not their mentors. That is, unless we should be so fortunate as to stumble unto someone who qualifies for that more profound relationship.
One of the key characteristics of this relationship is that the elder sees a possibility in the younger that the younger has not seen or claimed yet. Talking about an early teacher of his, Michael Meade says:
“Because she saw something in me, something of which I was barely conscious, I felt a greater sense that I had something to live up to in life.”
I was struck when Aaron, a promising young teacher who I shared the workshop in the recent Conference with, wrote a similar thing:
I don't know how to thank you for what transpired this past weekend. I'm still floating on air after such an amazing conference, highlighted by the chance to share the stage with one of my biggest role models, not only in Orff but in life! I hope that's not putting too much pressure on you (lol), but I need a little revenge anyway after the pressure you put on me to aspire to a higher level. You'll be happy to know that it worked; I'm newly motivated.
Do you feel that tension? At once, so pleased and honored to be chosen and then, “Dang! I’m going to have to work now!!!” So he threw it back at me to live up to his view of me as a kind of revenge. Sweet!
Spontaneously in my closing session, I called out Aaron and another man Tom to join me in front of some 800 people to represent the future of Orff, alongside my colleagues representing the present and other folks representing our long past. Tom later wrote:
I am writing you now to tell you thank you for bringing me into your inner circle. When you called Aaron and I out during closing ceremony, it caught me by surprise. It is an honor to be chosen by you for anything! Several people commented on your gesture towards us. Did you know he was gonna do that? Why do you think he did that?
I guess that people don't understand you. I do not try to. I take what you send out to the universe and never try to read between lines because you are sincere and real. I thank God that our lives have crossed. You impacted me so much that I went to San Francisco at the last minute in 2016 just because you suggested it.
Do you feel the themes here? Being chosen? Making a big step just because I suggested it? Not questioning it or trying to understand it, but just accepting it and stepping up to it? That’s the dynamic I’m talking about.
Most moving at all was a recent testimony from a school alum, now 28 and a remarkable performing musician of Japanese taiko, Balinese gamelan and more:
“Speaking about me at my 8th grade graduation, Doug said that I was ‘fire under water.’ As I’ve figured out who I am and what I value, that image has been a guiding principle—I don’t panic or show stress easily, but I’m passionate and dedicated and strong. That Doug saw me so clearly is such a privilege—it is so grounding and deeply validating to be seen clearly. It’s really special when a mentor can hand you a little nugget of self-awareness.”
Even more so than deciding on soy milk in your latte.