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Being Who We Are

Being Who We Are

Have you ever wished you were someone else? Dissatisfied with your looks, skills, or personality, and longed for the talents you see in others?

One bitterly cold and wet March day in 1994 I saw a demonstration of sheep dogs in the Lake District, by a top trainer and breeder. It was fascinating. The man had four or five border collies of different ages, training and ability, working a small flock of sheep. These clever dogs were all impressive but it was the contrasts between them that the trainer wanted to show us. One at a time, he set off two dogs to herd the sheep. One of the dogs had trouble with the flock because the sheep wouldn’t let him near them, when he was twenty or thirty yards out they bolted. The other dog had the opposite problem. The sheep behaved almost as though he wasn’t there; he had to get within a foot or two and even then risked a kick in the face.

The trainer explained that dogs differ in personality just like human beings and no matter how skilful the training, some will be better than others. Of the dog who spooked the sheep at twenty yards, he said “there’s something in his eye and body language, the sheep sense he’s dangerous and serious; the other dog doesn’t command the same respect; that’s something that can’t be trained”.

You probably remember the same difference in teachers at school. Some walk into a classroom and there’s instant silence. Others walk in, are ignored and have a hard time keeping order.

 Teaching has been my entire working life. A large part of it was training teachers to teach. Teaching is a fascinating profession. It’s infinitely subtle, complex and variable, with depths that many people never see. I’ve often wondered if the most important qualities in a good teacher can be taught. Can you teach someone to have empathy or compassion? How about teaching a commanding presence that inspires obedience? Can you teach someone to have a sense of humour? Well, there are tricks of the trade that help, but humour isn’t a dozen good jokes any more than love is a box of chocolates (isn’t it? I hear you say). Incidentally, I’ve always regarded a sense of humour as one of the most important qualities of a good teacher.

That doesn’t mean we can’t improve, but probably a mediocre musician will never become a musical genius like Mozart. At least, not in this life.

However, I believe that many qualities and talents, in fact the most important of them, can be received as gifts, even if they are difficult to teach as skills. I have faith that God grants gifts to those who diligently seek and ask. It could be, of course, that we are too hard on ourselves. Perhaps we already have the gifts, talents and personality that Heavenly Father intends us to have, but just need developing by hard work. After all, which of the two dogs will be most useful for a Shepherd? The first one, that sends the flock off in all directions with a look, or the second that gets the job done, even with some difficulty? Perhaps some of us should try admiring the person in the mirror a little more each morning. Although, if you have an outsized ego like me, the opposite could be true.

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