December 18, 2023, Israel
Today is my fathers' birthday, although it has been many years since he left this earth. His lessons are always with me, and sometimes I feel a renewal of a lesson. Today I happened to bump into a young married woman who recently gave birth. She is an educator and a role model for young students. Her name is Mazal-Or and she is one of my children, one of the many kids I taught over the years. She was telling me of the impact I had on her and how even now she speaks of me to her own children. This gave me a wonderful feeling. I told her of a story as well. I told her a story about her mother. Her mother too is a teacher, a kindergarten teacher, and she understands what it is to be a teacher, the high points and the low. Her son was my student for many years, and then the sad day came when he left the dojo. It was sad for me but not for the family. He was accepted into one of Israel's most prestigious schools, one which combined religious studies with high tech training. Today he is a leader in the field and a happily married man.
I told his sister that I would never forget the conversation with her mother. No one likes to lose a student, certainly not one who has come so far and was approaching a high belt, but it was time for him to go on to other endeavors in life. His mother explained. For the sake of privacy, I will not reveal the details, but she told me that she heard my reputation and brought her son to me for that reason, as a healing, and not just for self-defense aspects. She told me of a little boy who had no friends, who was teased and picked on, who was afraid to walk home from school alone. She told me of a boy who lacked confidence. And now, she said, she has a different boy, a young man, one who is surrounded by friends, who is confident and popular. She said, I gave you a boy and you returned to me a young man. and they were ready to move on.
That was many years ago, she said I am still spoken of often in their family, which I did not know, but I shared with them that I often think of that little chat with the mother. She, as a teacher, understood that teachers also need feedback and encouragement. She understood that teaching is often a thankless task, literally, and that it becomes difficult to continue.
I shared two stories about my father. My father used to write letters to the editor. This was long before internet made that an easy process. He would take pen to paper and thoughtfully compose a letter. He would have to place it in an envelope, put on a stamp and take it to the post office. He would write his letters to complement the author of an article he enjoyed in the paper. He explained to me, "Most letters to the editor are complaints and criticisms. But many read an article and enjoy it but perhaps only one of a hundred bother to write a letter to thank the author and to express appreciation for an article well written and researched, I am that one out of a hundred."
Turns out that it is more like one of ten thousand.
This story had a powerful impact on me. When we enjoy something, we don't tend to think of the creator. If we enjoy a meal at a restaurant, do we stop and think that perhaps the chef could use a complement? Perhaps he is wondering if people really enjoyed what he cooked? When we hear a song we probably assume that the singer is a great big star and certainly does not need our feedback. But this is wrong. When we read a good book we probably figure, well the author knows he is a great writer, he does not need my approval or feedback.
But they do. We do.
My other lesson involves my dad, my mom and George Burns. When I was a teenager, my father was a congregational rabbi. To this day he remains one of the most remarkable speakers I ever heard. His sermons were inspiring each and every week. As he spoke my attention was total and focused, on the edge of my seat. Even though he was the dad that I saw having breakfast in his pajamas, grapenuts cereal, he still appeared to me as giant when he spoke from the podium of our modest synagogue. His message was inspiring, his delivery was powerful, and I recall feeling a shiver running down my spine and my hair standing on edge. He was the real deal. and yet...
I was watching a George Burns comedy with my mother. In the movie Burns has a comic performance, a stand-up comedy night. The audience loves him, they burst out laughing with every joke. He has them eating out of his hands. Burns is already an old man, a well-established entertainer, a star by anyone's standards, and yet...
In the film, at the conclusion of his successful performance, Burns is sitting in the back seat of his car and being driven by his loyal chauffeur. "Did you think they liked the show?" Burns asks his driver, "Yes, Mr. Burns, they loved the show." "Do you think they liked the bit about..." and so on and so forth, George Burns, playing himself, shows incredible lack of confidence and needs his loyal chauffer to keep telling him how wonderful he was and how much the audience enjoyed the performance.
I turned to my mother and asked, "Mom, I don't get it. George Burns is a huge star, the entire crowd was applauding, laughing at every joke, why does he keep badgering the poor driver for compliments and feedback?"
My mom answered, "that is your father". Meaning, that my father too, despite being a great speaker, comes home after every service and badgers my mother, did the people like my talk? Do you think they appreciated that bit about...etc.
And the lesson is, bringing it back to my encounter this morning with my student, now herself a mom and an educator, is that we all need positive reinforcement. We all need to hear that we are appreciated, that our efforts and investment are valued. It was many years ago but yet I remember her words about her son, precisely because it was so rare! Precisely because so few people were thoughtful enough to actually express what I had done for their children. Now years later, gradually, and very casually, many have told me of the huge impact those years had on their kids. Many of the children themselves, as adults, told me on chance encounters what an effect the training had on their lives and on their personal development. But at the time, it was very few and far between. Mrs. K, the mom of the young woman I saw this morning, herself a teacher, understood how important feedback is. She took the time; she contacted me, and it had a huge impact on me.
Moshe Katz, 7th dan Black Belt, Israeli Krav Maga. Certified by Wingate Institute. Member Black Belt hall of fame, USA and Europe.
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