Lessons from the Dalai Lama: we should honour our teachers

Yesterday we celebrated World Teachers’ Day in school, and it reminded me of something I have been meaning to write about for some time. When the Dalai Lama visited Sydney recently, I was fortunate to be present at his public talk in the Sydney Entertainment Centre, and – as one would expect from a talk by one of the world’s great spiritual leaders – the experience gave me food for thought. This began even before the Dalai Lama began to speak, because the backdrop to the stage was a most striking set of banners against a crimson red curtain, and they read as follows: “We are all the same. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally.”  As I waited for the main talk, I mused.

On one level, of course, we are not all the same. We are all unique. There are 7 billion human beings on the planet, and none is completely identical to another. Each has combinations of genes which cannot be replicated absolutely; and even so-named identical siblings follow, from the moment they are born, slightly different pathways which create different neural tracks and different social responses. We are all amazingly different.

It is also true, however, that we are all human beings, and we are all inter-related. No human being stands alone in this respect; we have all been created by and through other human beings, and we are all connected through blood lines and shared experiences. We also have a shared capacity for consciousness and awareness of others. We have – if we choose to develop and use it – an empathy for others, and an understanding of our responsibility towards others. In this sense, we are all the same.

This presents an immense challenge for schools and parents, who have the task of growing our young people and forming them into the best and most valuable human beings they can be, both as unique individuals and as human beings who are on one level the same: physically, mentally, emotionally. How can we do this?

This, of course, is the art of education. One size does not and cannot “fit all” in our schools; education is a fluid, responsive process which requires teachers to be aware of, and able to react differently to, the needs of every single child, working on those areas where she/he struggles, and developing those areas where she/he is strong, while being mindful of the whole – a strong framework of global understandings and shared human values.

This is not easy. In fact, it is distinctly difficult. But it is also immensely important; and every day, teachers are seeking to do exactly this in our schools. We should honour them, for their task is that of taking humanity to a higher plane.


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