Mentors and teachers are a special gift to human society. These cannot simply be understood to be professions or titles, or some kind of a degree that is earned from an institution. Rather, these are linked to the personal qualities and concerns of the individual. Even more so, it is connected with how a person is able to connect with others to bring about their betterment. Could this be achieved merely on the basis of academic excellence or having a vast storehouse of knowledge? While those things certainly count, it is the concern and connection – the lighting up of the mind and heart – that fulfills the role of a mentor and teacher.
Few individuals are able to examine writings or some other form of content purely on the basis of the ideas expressed within. For example, when a person is alone with a book, it is upon the mind and nature of that person to interpret the meaning of what is written. Another person with the same book might not be affected in the same way. Whether it is with science or with religion or with philosophy, the student imparts some of himself or herself to the writings and content. Some students are very impressionable and thereby able to relate very closely to the ideas. Other students memorize but, develop no real understanding. When the time comes, they have no real belief or ability to use their knowledge in any meaningful way. There are even fewer who actually put the ideas to some form of test and check to see their validity in real, practical terms. Seeing all these possibilities, it is then a special role that the mentor or teacher can find himself in.
The mentors and teachers who can identify extremist tendencies
Inherent in certain texts, particularly of religion, there are the ideas that we would consider extreme. To understand this in practical terms, it is useful to take a powerful idea. For instance, the idea of revenge is connected with the very idea of justice. In some cases, justice needs to be expressed in the form of revenge for it be meaningful, satisfying, and possibly a lesson to others in the community. A few of the instances when the word “revenge” occurs in the Old Testament are, as follows:
“‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.
Samson said to them, “Since you’ve acted like this, I swear that I won’t stop until I get my revenge on you.”
at the taunts of those who reproach and revile me, because of the enemy, who is bent on revenge.
In the New Testament, instead of an instance of this idea in action, there is a principle:
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
When the instance of revenge being divinely executed is to be seen, one could look at the case of Judas:
18 (With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. 19 Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)
Now, how would a mentor or teacher handle each of these texts to make it clear to a student what they could possibly mean in our present life? It would have to be a private session between the student and the teacher. The instructor would first need to understand how the student perceives the text, what it means to him or her, and what feelings are aroused. All this is possible only through listening.1 Also, on the other side of the exchange, does the instructor have personal objectives and goals during this exchange with the student? It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to find a teacher who can detach himself or herself from his own beliefs and interact with the questions of a student. Aside from all these things, there is the original context of the persons and times when those ideas were originally written. There is no easy way to counter extremism if that is the goal a mentor or teacher has.
If a student, for example, expresses dissatisfaction with the idea of divine revenge or special appointment of persons to exact such revenge, what is to be done?
When the idea of divinely effected or sanctioned revenge is dismissed, what alternative then remains? Logically, the recourse has to be found through the humanly devised systems of law and order. One finds disappointment with divine authority or expresses doubts therein, then there needs to be another layer of protection that is socially instituted. It is also possible to attribute divinely approved recourse through the human institutions of the courts and law-enforcement officials.
What appears impossible to do is, completely dismiss the human sentiment of revenge as worthless, immature, wrong, or illegitimate. Such dismissal will itself will be an extreme. Other than to those who are absolute believers in non-violence, such dismissal will not make sense.
It is important, as far as is possible, to find answers to the questions of a person from within the system of beliefs where the question has originated from. This is the challenge. It is also the need in our time. However, there are missing components that do not end in a peaceful settlement of longings and questions available in certain beliefs. Going back to the idea of revenge from the Divine being, just imagine the damage it can do when detached from the ideas of faith and patience. How easy it is to forget, for example, that the Bible is a concise record written over a very long time – almost 1,600 years. The folly and its judgment seem to be so close together, even though years and decades have elapsed between the two in so many cases. A student or a teacher who has entirely forgotten these ideas of patience, mercy, and faith will be prone to short-sighted ideas of violence and extremism. So, it becomes a case when the idea is settled from within the system of belief but, the answer is not what the student wants to hear!
The real difficulty we are faced with is, to mentor and teach toward a feeling of hope and reason
Extremism cannot be answered by the intellect alone. There could be hundreds of textual instances that advise against extremism but, if human reason and hope cannot be satisfied, those ideas (as of revenge) will re-emerge after a period of suppression. Blaming religion could be easy, but then human actions stand even more condemned by the same yardstick. If one speaks against a religious text like the Bible, then one should also speak against the violence that can be produced by medical malpractices, or nationalism, or racism. Extremism, after all, is a response and can emerge for various original reasons.
At present, there really isn’t much forthcoming from the human realm to inspire hope or satisfy reason. The best a person can seek to do is, have personal hope and satisfaction of reason. It may not satisfy another one but, it is a personal safeguard against harm to oneself or to others. Kindness, unselfishness, concern for others, while maintaining personal safety, and seeing oneself in connection with all others, are genuine ideas that promote coexistence. Extremism does not bring coexistence, let alone bring peace; neither does the fixation with revenge.
We cannot consider foolish or look down upon those who maintain faith as the basis for their peace. They have exercised reason and choice in a way that satisfies long-term thinking. So, it is wise of them. Isn’t it? It is too much to wish for society to become as we wish it to be. It is too much to even wish that of one other person. What each one can do is, be settled in their own heart and mind as to the final result that comes from the ideas they hold. It is quite possible, that the hope and satisfaction of reason we are looking for on the outside, must start from our own selves. A good teacher and a mentor can help us in this personal pursuit both, by words and more importantly by example.
- A wise teacher would also note, why the particular student is fascinated with the idea of revenge and not kindness, forgiveness, communication, or something else.