The students look up to me as an authority figure with power over their lives. The power comes from grades! I do not relish the power, but in this case I find it handy and invest it to make growing more pleasant.
Frankly, I am surprised that the state of Michigan pays me to do what I would have loved to do without pay. My deepest joy in my work comes from knowing that I can and do make a difference. My job is not easy, but rewarding. Recently I hurt my back, and my doctor warned me to slow down or else. My philosophy is simple: if a candle burns out at both ends, it lasts half as long, but gives twice the light. I am all for that. The candle was almost blown out two years ago, and ten more times before that, each time for a different reason. My good luck comes from this: the candle still has lots of unpolished wax. When the wind blows, instead of dying out the candle puts out smoke. Part of the reason for its survival is the positive images and visions the candle of my soul sends to quiet the wind.
Most of the students come to class with one goal in mind: to get a good grade. And they want me to spend the whole semester preparing them for that goal. To many of them, getting a good grade from their teacher matters more than one from their Maker. Their thoughts range within a small circle.
My students have no idea of the surprises I have in store for them. I tell them right at the start: this is your first day; you are free to keep this course or to drop it. Please remember the main term of our contract: I am not here to prepare you for tests, but for life! I am not here to offer you in-formation but trans-formation. I am not here to give you fish, but to make you fishers of a grand destiny, of a splendid future.
To raise their vision, I tell them about the response of three mothers to someone who asked each of them what she was doing. The first one said, “I am changing a diaper.” The second one responded, “I am raising a daughter.” The third one declared, “I am raising a genius, a superstar.”
After many years of teaching I am still puzzled by the impact that my words of hope and encouragement have on the students. They respond like the thirsty who suddenly find themselves coming upon a stream in a faraway prairie.
They come to class with the expectation of filling their notebooks and leaving. I tell them learning without living is a travesty and living without loving is torture. It is better not to have lived than to live without loving. Most of them are surprised to hear the word love from an instructor. Love is something one expresses to a baby brother or little sister, to a cute pet or a special person, but not to strangers.
The pleasure of friendship and harmony soon breaks new grounds. Beautiful tulips of thought and splendid lilies and lotuses of love begin to bloom and blossom. Soon the students learn to support each other, to care and not to criticize.
Every semester I sense a new surprise at the human capacity for change. In my school days, I learned that it was hard to change people. Had it not been for a few “secrets” I have since learned, I would still espouse that view. The first secret is this: A new idea, like a seed, cannot take root and grow unless a small opening is made in the heart. The power that keeps the heart open and nourished is an abundance of positive images and thoughts. We are surrounded by “I can’t” “You can’t” and “It can’t” messages. After a while the distressing and defeating signals sink in and we sink with them. Once people recognize that life is much brighter than they think, and that they already own an abundance of blessings, the humanity in them begins to bloom, a new dawn breaks in the soul, and the breath of the new Spring overwhelms them.
Dr. Ervin Laszlo, one of the most eminent scientists of our time, who has researched and written extensively on planetary peace and a global social system declares: “Positive visions and images create momentum, which move the nations to the desired end.” Without them a nation is at risk. Without them an individual is at peril. History reveals that positive visions and images always precede the birth of great civilizations. The same holds true with individuals.
I work long hours every day. Sometimes when I am about to go to a class, I feel tired. My body dreams of rest; but my spirit, the commander-in-chief, knows better. Astonishing as it may seem, soon after I step into the classroom, my fatigue fades away. I gain strength from the exchange and excitement of sharing and learning, from the honor of seeing some thirty pairs of beautiful eyes peering straight at me with hope and anticipation. On many occasions my students have told me the same thing: that they come tired or depressed, but leave refreshed and spirited. Not that I do not look forward to the breaks, but that I find work in itself a break. What soothes my soul is this silent song that I constantly hear: “The next hour is heaven’s gift to you. It is the precious currency of many lives, including yours. Invest it to make the world a little brighter and richer than it would have been without you. These students may never again have a chance to learn what you fail to teach them now. You have the honor of living in their lives forever. Cherish the honor.”
What have I learned specifically from my faith that helps me in my profession?
- Work is not a curse but an act of worship. Loving what you do is an extension of loving the One who made working essential to living. You cannot love God and hate working, just as you cannot love God and hate worshipping.
- If you want God to be pleased with you, then people must be pleased with you. This is the Creator’s contract with all those who seek His blessings. You cannot love God and offend people, just as you cannot love your heart and hate your eyes.
- Learning is food for living. Unused, it spoils. Knowledge that begins and ends with words only burdens the mind. Like a cloud of dust, it obscures the light and stifles breathing. Knowledge is God’s splendid gift. But it is better not to have knowledge than to have it and not use it. As Jesus said, from those who have more, more will be expected.
- We are all together in one rocking boat. Each of us lives like a cell in the body of Humanity. The cells in the eyes never touch or meet the ones in the heart, yet they work for the same end. Harm to one is harm to the other. (This one takes a lot of practice to master, because many people see interdependence to be an opposite to individualism and independence.)
When I began to teach I was under the spell of tradition. It took me quite a while to realize the fallacy of spreading facts at the expense of living and loving. I wish I had known then what I know now. But that is life; we grow from experience. I had no model to follow then except my own professors who were simply doing what their professors had done. In this I see an awakening lesson: we all suffer from blind spots. The danger comes not from the spots but from not seeing them.
I devote the last day of each class entirely to the story of my own life. The students have a chance to ask anything they wish to know about my background. No question is off limits. Students are curious and say they have not known any other teacher who would speak so openly about his life. Most people, especially professors, live a secret life. My willingness to disclose and decipher myself follows the philosophy that we can best learn from examples. Every life presents living lessons to others. “No one lives long enough to make all the mistakes by himself.”
My preference is to talk about any subject other than myself. I simply feel uncomfortable in the spotlight. I know someday I will be fully exposed to that light. No one can escape a “life review.” Perhaps I am getting some practice for that awesome and final disclosure.
Sometimes at the end of the semester, I invite my students to my home for a small celebration. They find it hard to believe that an instructor prepares homemade cake for so many students. In return, they give me all kinds of thank-you cards and little gifts that I cherish.
What surprises my students more than anything else is my optimism. They wonder where it comes from. What surprises me is how contagious my optimism is. If I had not seen it, I would never have believed it. I instantly see a change in the students’ attitudes on the first day. The change continues to grow day after day, week after week. I tell them that my optimism comes both from earth and from heaven. It comes from earth through my mother (now passed away) and from heaven through my faith. I tell them that I have never known a person whose love was as unconditional as my mother’s. Like a fragrant flower, she spread her love equally to all people. It seemed everyone was her son or daughter. As to the influence of the Bahá’í Faith in creating a positive attitude, read The Glory of Being Human in the next volume and see if there is any room in your life for negative thinking. Where did my mother get her optimism? Mostly from her faith. The light always comes from heaven, from the main Generator.
Let me cite several brief examples from my students’ anonymous weekly comments. My purpose in citing the following comments is to reveal God’s power in the life of a servant, and the positive consequence of that power in the lives of others. That servant could be anyone. Without His power, all my optimism, and all my hopes and dreams, which keep my soul aglow, would vanish as is bright sunlight obscured by drifting clouds.
The quotations that follow are examples from a single evaluation written by both graduate and undergraduate students after one class session:
My self-esteem has improved already. I look forward to class and am applying the results to my life. It is nice to have a professor so concerned about his students as people, not just brains! You have a lot of knowledge behind your lectures. It shows by the way you speak.
I’m really enjoying this class. I’m going through tough times right now and coming to this class is making me more positive, and I’m getting my self-esteem back. It’s nice to have a class where you are always feeling good!
Renaissance of success in attitude! You are personal, and a warm person and you show this throughout your delivery. It’s great to have a teacher that cares about my self-esteem!
Your positive attitude is an inspiration to me! You are the first teacher to offer outside help to his students. Thank you. It is nice to know that you care.
After reading one of my handouts, a student wrote: “Hurray! What an uplifting article. I think I could read this every Sunday morning instead of going to church, as your writing offers me a challenge to make myself a better person.”
I love your positive attitude. It shines every day. This is extremely refreshing. It is so important to look at the positives in life—I feel that it is the only way to survive— please continue to share this attitude with us.
I like all the stress on the positive—I need it for the research class about which I’m totally confused. I also like your sense of humor and ease with people. I really enjoy this class—it’s so refreshing. I also feel the knowledge I’m acquiring will be invaluable to me.
The positiveness of the teacher—it is contagious. I look forward to coming to class. You are truly inspirational. Thank you!
I love your philosophy on being a better person, a better teacher. I’m working! I appreciate the fact that you are treating us like adults. You also respect our ideas and opinions.
You are extremely enjoyable to listen to. It is very nice to hear/see someone sooo…positive. I am looking forward to reaching my goal.
My offer of help to my students comes from this: I do not see myself separate from them. Their problem is my problem, their happiness is my happiness. So when I help them it is like helping myself. It is no sacrifice on my part and it doesn’t take much time. In fact I take great pleasure in helping them solve their problems. For me it is a challenge. Take the example of Dawn, the girl whose sister-in-law was a perfectionist body builder desperately in need of building her spirit. We had so much fun hearing her weekly reports.
It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself. _Ralph Emerson
Let me cite the reasons a few students came to see me this week. Two young men had lost their girlfriends and wanted to know how they could survive without them. One of them also suffered from low self-esteem and wanted help to gain confidence to speak in class. Another student was a minister who had resigned from ministry after fifteen years because he could no longer believe in some of the doctrines of his church. He had several theological questions he could not resolve. One lady wanted help for her food allergies because I told the class that I was an expert in the subject!
Several months ago I found one of them (who is a devout Catholic) very angry. I asked what was the matter. She complained about people’s rudeness on the phone. I told her with an excited voice: “You have a very important role. Don’t underestimate your powers and privileges. When people are angry you can be sure, they have a reason…” Then I added softly: “Practice this imagery. When the phone rings, think that God is calling you, that He wants to speak to you through one of His creatures, some of whom are angry! Every time the phone rings say: here is one more chance to connect my soul to God. Remember that our Creator declares that when people are pleased with you, He will be pleased with you. Cherish every phone call. It gives you a chance to please God. It is a great honor to be in this position.”It seems most of our secretaries can also use some help. One of them had two daughters. They were both killed on a foggy day on their way to school. She was terribly depressed. I gave her a Bahá’í book on the afterlife. She did not believe she could ever see her daughters. Now she has a little hope. Her facial expressions testify to a change of heart. Another secretary suffers from a chronic disease, has a seriously sick mother, and a husband incapacitated and on kidney dialysis.
My words reminded her of all the things she had heard since childhood from her family and her church. By then her anger had abated and given way to a deep smile and an awakened and happy heart. Later, several times she said with humor in her voice “I am still doing the exercise you recommended.” A little spiritual therapy lifted a burden from her soul. She already had enough problems at home and could hardly bear the annoyance of coping with angry people.
To conclude, I reached the point of certainty about the Bahá’í Faith when, I believe, God Himself intervened and gave me that most precious gift. I cannot explain, by human standards alone, the motivating power behind my sudden spiritual transformation. I felt like being in an ocean, and then suddenly recognizing its presence. The true measure of my gratitude to God for this gift is beyond my ability or estimation. I would have given anything, even my very life, to receive it, and have no idea what life would have been like without it.
The Bahá’í Faith has made all the difference in the way I have experienced life and related to others. It has given me a wider and sharper view of the world, a telescopic image of human life on this planet. It has inspired in me a positive vision of the future, and an awareness of my role in spreading the fragrance of hope and optimism in this gloomy world.
I hope that this brief biographical sketch will help you appreciate the transforming power of the Baha’i Faith, and make your journey for the search for truth a little more meaningful. May God crown your like with jewels of joy and boundless blessings. Hushidar Motlagh.