2 min read

034 - On A Successor's Success - Moral Letters for Modern Times

If the sincere student is not ready, the teacher is not done.
Edinburgh castle, stone houses in foreground - Moral Letters to Lucilius
Photo by James Bellerjeau

I cannot tell you what joy it brings me to be well replaced! To know that what you have built will be maintained and expanded is to know that you have not toiled in vain. The master carpenter lays down tools all the more willingly when the apprentice is waiting and eager to take them up.

How to explain, then, the many who clutch jealously to the reins and refuse to relinquish them? We talked earlier of the dangers in mistaking one’s work for one’s meaning. See On The Value Of Work. Besides those who have not found their purpose outside their labor, I suspect what keeps many in the saddle well beyond their comfort is fear. Fear that comes in two forms: first, that their successor will outshine them, and second, that they will not. “What can this mean?” you ask. “How can both the one and its opposite be the culprit?” They are alike, my dear Deuteros, in that they both arise from flawed thinking about the relationship between teacher and student.

The one who is afraid of being outdone does not understand that the renown of the student reflects favorably on their teacher. And while the other avoids this particular trap, they have fallen prey to another: namely, lacking confidence that they have done enough to prepare their pupil. Just as renown redounds to the teacher, so too does failure lie properly at their feet. For if the master fears the student is not ready, does the apt pupil not also know it? It is folly to hand over the keys while sweating and flinching at the thought of what the new driver will do on their first solo trip. If the sincere student does not understand, the teacher has not been clear. If the sincere student is not ready, the teacher is not done.

Humankind progresses when we do our utmost to ensure that the steps we’ve taken do not need to be retraced, and the lessons we’ve learned are not lost. Consider how much farther the next runner in the relay race can advance if we take care that they do not start behind us, but rather from the very tip of the baton in our outstretched hand.

Just as you are a sincere student, Deuteros, I aim to be no false teacher. I rejoice in seeing you progress, as much for my own sake as your own, because it means I am fulfilling my duty as you fulfil your promise.

Be well.

Next Letter →
Overview of All Letters ↑