Today, I learned that one of my favourite university professors, Dr. Greg Malszecki, had retired. He was well known and liked as much for his personable attitude and penchant for loud sweaters as he was for his integrity and trustable nature. One of the memories which stands out clearly from my first year Kinesiology program was the morning he demonstrated a series of Tai-Chi forms in front of the class. He conducted himself with a simple grace which transcended the occasional miscues and inconsistencies in his movements. “I try to learn a new skill every year,” he offered, “so I will never forget how my students feel.”
At the time, I couldn’t fully appreciate the degree of humility it must have taken to present himself so openly to 400 students who were less than half his age. To be vulnerable and risk appearing as less than perfect to the same people he was entrusted with guiding as an authority figure betrayed his willingness to be real and lead by example.
It was a poignant display of integrity from a man who was operating within an institution I didn’t always find to be a shining example thereof 😉 To be the best teacher possible for his students, Dr. Malszecki was a life-long student himself. From that and many other interactions, I saw that he was willing to practice what he preached and truly believed in the value of self-exploration and self- improvement (two concepts he stressed regularly in class).
I hope you’ve run into a few teachers (inside or outside the traditional classroom) who met you honestly, with the sincere intention to be themselves in the service of helping you learn more about your self. After a decade of teaching and mentoring experience, I can say that this often hasn’t been an easy or comfortable proposition for me. I have found it to be absolutely essential, however, for meaningful learning to take place.
Whether amongst coworkers, friends or family, who hasn’t felt the pressure to appear as perfectly infallible? What is it which makes us (or me, at least) desire to have all the answers and loathe with the possibility of appearing unsure, uncomfortable or unconfident around others (and even ourselves)? Once we’ve invested a certain amount of time in something or reached a certain level of success, how tempting is it to assume we’ve realized our full potential? Are we content to rest in what we (think we) know, or compelled to continue the journey of exploration and growth?
I won’t pretend to have definitive answers to any of these questions, but experience shows me that striving for an open humility might be enough. To continually look for opportunities to express myself sincerely and see things from a new perspective allows me to meet others honestly, where we can hopefully both let down our habitual defences down and be open to allowing something new in. Taking the chance to be real again and again goes a long way towards dissolving those fearful, controlling and closed aspects of my personality. Like my university professor, I’m learning to embrace being a life-long student.
To paraphrase an old Chinese proverb: “The teacher and the taught together create the teaching”. I’m increasingly grateful to every teacher and student I’ve had who were willing to meet me openly and learn together. It’s a challenging, exhilarating journey I’m honoured to share with whomever wants to explore.
I hope you’re enjoying retirement, Dr. Malszecki.