This semester, I won the teaching evaluations lottery. It got me thinking about what makes a good teacher. It’s really an elusive concept. Some semesters I’m the best teacher ever, others I’m… not.
I always try to reach out and relate to students as people. I genuinely care about them and invest a lot, mentally and emotionally, in these people who, for one semester, are my responsibility. I approach teaching with awe and care, because ultimately, what I am doing, is messing with their minds. For one semester, they sit there and we talk, and I’m supposed to guide, direct, have the answers, be right. They open their minds to me and I get to mess with them. Scary.
Messing with their minds is what many of you in the strategic communication professions (PR, marketing, etc.) do. Granted, your audience is more skeptical than mine, but every time you communicate, whether it is to an audience of 10 or 10 million people, there is a chance you are messing with their minds.
You get to teach them new ideas & beliefs, influence attitudes and opinions, and change behavior. You can influence your publics on an individual level (yey! Mary bought my brand of… insert product here) and you can influence the overall culture (think about how the Mastercard priceless commercials have become part of everyday culture here in the U.S.). That’s what I call messing with their minds.
Communicating involves a huge responsibility, because when you communicate, you get to mess with people’s minds.
Are you aware of that responsibility? Do you reflect upon it?
The easy test I apply is: What if they believe me? What if, out of 10 (or 10 million) people, there are a few who 100% believe me? Who do as I say? If my communication is successful, and they believe me and do as I say, will their lives be any better? Will the world be any better? Am I, knowingly, causing any harm? What if my communication is really changing someone/something in the world? Am I comfortable with the direction of that change?
I don’t claim I’m always successful (at communicating, or at applying the above ethics test) and I can’t claim that all ethical responsibility is on one side. Yes, people should take care of themselves and protect their own minds against my messing with them. Yet I can’t help but reflect on my responsibility as a teacher and communicator.
Thank you for (not) allowing me to mess with your mind. What are your thoughts?