Learning from Flawed Teachers

Austin Kleon remembers great advice from Jeffrey Tambor (“Worrying is not preparation”) and wonders what we can learn from people we used to admire:

It’s like they say in A.A. and Levon sang in The Band: “Take what you need and leave the rest.”

The need I will take is the teaching. The rest I will leave is the teacher.

In the meantime, I will keep looking for and learning from better men, or better yet, better women.

(Take time to read Austin’s sketchnotes from Tambor’s talks. They’re good.)

Doug Toft, in writing about the possibilities and limits of enlightenment, includes a depressingly long list of spiritual teachers whose destructive behavior wrecked their students’ lives.

Harlan Ellison often cited a quote: “Never meet an artist whose work you admire. The artist is always so much less than the art.” (Ellison is a person whose spirit and work ethic I always admired from my teens to adulthood, but whose work and personality I left behind. As Kleon notes, we’re infatuated by our ideas of the images these people project, but we’re also infatuated by our ideas of who we think these people are.)

I believe that teachers, artists, and those public personalities we admire share with us the best part of themselves. That’s what touches us and that’s what we latch on to. Separate the teaching from the teacher and the art from the artist — the good art and teachings will stand on their own.