“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” ~Buddhist Proverb
I consider myself fortunate for having found meaningful work with which to make a living. I mentor undergrads with the intention of helping them express themselves better. As much as I love my work, I have to admit that at times, I find myself doubting the work I do and the subsequent impact I may have failed to have on my mentees’ lives.
As part of inculcating the learning of the sessions, the mentees are required to turn in weekly reflections of what they learnt during the week. We use a 3-2-1 format to achieve this goal: 3 things that stood out for them, 2 things they wish to share with people they care about, and 1 thing they will start applying immediately in their lives. As much as the sessions that pass by in the week are filled with positive energy and a buoyant mood, more often than not a few of the mentees fail to prioritize sending the reflection emails and leave us feeling perplexed about what to do and how to feel.
On Sundays around 6pm when the deadline for turning in such emails will have passed, I contemplate my own intentions, actions, and the desired impact that I may or may not have had. Although it is easy to feel low and for me and my team to be filled with self-doubt, one key insight keeps us going. This wonderful idea was shared by Ajahn Brahm in one of his amazing talks. Brahm draws a distinction between ‘care’ and ‘cure’, arguing that a doctor’s responsibility is to care for his patient and not to cure. It implies that if you give enough care to go along with your medical expertise, you as a doctor will most definitely save the patient; given the patient’s condition is curable. However, if your intention is to primarily cure, you may end up feeling miserable at how you couldn’t save a patient from an untimely death despite all your best efforts.
My mentoring team understands (but sometimes needs a gentle reminding) that these young guns are only just starting out. They aren’t perfect by any means and we can’t expect them to be, too. The fact that they’ve signed up to the program and are turning up week-in-week-out is in itself highly commendable on both our parts. It is our job to care for them with kindness, compassion, and wisdom, not to cure their shortcomings.