Thursday, April 20, 2006

Fear or Inspiration?

In raising a family, education, relationships and the workplace, there are two main ways of achieving results: either through fear or inspiration. Of the two, fear is the easier route. Your children learn not to do something because they are afraid of being punished. A student studies hard because of the fear of making mistakes, or having the teacher get mad at him. In many relationships, including marriage, one of the partners accepts the submissive role, and does what the other one demands, in order not to be rejected, or in many cases, assaulted. In the workplace, a boss can make his subordinates work hard, out of fear of being fired, demoted or humiliated. This can work to a point but at a price: children who leave home are not likely to return home often, a student ends up hating the subject and the teacher, the abused spouse finally gets the courage to leave, and the stressed worker obviously is constantly looking for another job opportunity.

The inspirational route, without the fear factor, is far more demanding. Your child has the option of doing something that he or she knows is right or wrong. A student with an inspiring teacher will look forward to his/her classes and lessons, even when there might not have been time to prepare adequately every time. In a relationship people want to be with each other because it is inspiring. Yes, it works even in a marriage long-term. And it is possible to be excited to go to work when one knows that his or her effort is appreciated by the boss and coworkers as well.

Being a source of inspiration is not easy. One has to be loving, caring and understanding beyond the 'norm' and constantly make an effort. One has to be open to admit his own faults, yet show an enthusiastic desire to achieve a higher level in whatever the subject is. A child looks at the parent for an example, a student at the teacher for the same. A partner in a relationship may not always do the right thing to please the other, and everyone has their moods and weaknesses, yet knowing that one is always accepted as he or she is, means, without exception, harmony and lack of fear. At work one gives his best and utmost when the effort is genuinely appreciated, not just expected.

A smile goes a long way. I don’t mean the typical empty ‘look at my teeth’ smile most of us have been taught to show, but the often very subtle expression of acceptance, praise and even gratitude one can sense. Showing one’s teeth is a sign of hostility in our cousins the great apes, and I don’t think we would use that as a sign of lovability if we hadn’t been taught it as ‘proper’ behavior. Interestingly, new rules for the passports in EU countries require that person not show his or her teeth in the photo. Of course, whatever form the smile takes, even if it is invisible, it is usually easy for the recipient to understand. One can even smile with his/her eyes alone! All those years when I worked in orchestras, I can remember those conductors who in concerts made their musicians feel joyful and at ease, in spite of being very demanding in rehearsals, rightfully so, given the short preparation time. When a musician senses such approval instead of being faced with almost hateful glances, as if in 'you are making me look bad', not an uncommon approach, he or she tries differently: not just to play correctly but to play with the same kind inspiration the maestro has shown. Making one feel that we are in this together makes a world of difference! The same is true with teaching an instrument: mistakes don’t really matter, as the student knows where they happen, and the professor’s reinforcing the positive can produce miracles. Even criticism can be constructive and to be learned from, not just destructive as often is the case. None of us is perfect, and it is the teacher’s duty to point out where improvement is needed.

Granted, results can be achieved with both methods, but at the end you have a child, spouse, friend or a worker who is either burned out or happy with life. Having experienced both, I know what I would choose; pulling over on a narrow street to let another car through makes one feel a lot better than an episode of road rage.