Being teachable is not a natural skill.
We come into the world completely self-centered and omnipotent in our own infant minds.
We are told that when a baby is carried into a room full of light, their instinct is to believe they caused the light to come on. The cry of a baby is full-fledged fear at the idea they do not control their surroundings.
Due to various circumstances, we gradually surrender our narcissistic views and learn first to accept and then, hopefully, to seek teachers in our lives. They are there to be found in every realm of life: work, play, and relationships. Teachers can guide our physical, mental and spiritual behaviors.
Early life provides specific teachers fulfilling specific roles, including parents, baby-sitters, school teachers, college professors, and career mentors. But life provides many more opportunities to learn, usually from those who teach by example.
As life advances, and expectations of competency and mastery increase, many drift toward the view that “I got this.” It often becomes a matter of pride to “know” and a humiliation to “ask.” This tendency is especially prevalent among people experiencing addiction. As we isolate more and more, we increasingly see ourselves as in control and unilaterally responsible for our well-being. Assistance from others is not only a nuisance but a threat to our lifestyle.
Recovery often begins with a crisis or intervention that penetrates our isolation. Ideas we never contemplated gradually become acceptable. Examples of others on a recovery journey suddenly have great meaning and we try to adopt their new defenses against taking the first drink or drug.
New possibilities and worthy ideas confront us and we learn from our new “teachers” how to accept change and cope with challenges without misusing substances. As we benefit from new principles of survival and self-care and develop fulfilling recovery-based lifestyles, we may forget the value of learning and instead become isolated in a new “protected” sanctuary of recovery friends and associates.
Stopping dependence on substances is a major victory. But it should be only the beginning of building a new and rewarding life. Accepting the experience of others (being teachable) is a tool that puts us on a proven path to recovery. But the real rewards come from continuing to live with the tool of being teachable.
Cultivating a life-long practice of learning is both work and joy. First, we must “become willing” by letting go of the idea that we are complete in our knowledge and that learning new things might make life more difficult.
But one axiom has benefited everyone who uses it: “When I become willing, a teacher will appear.”