We’ve often been told, that we need to know the answer. That to be able to help someone else we need to know more than them. We believe that helping others happens through the advice we can share with them. Or that they only need to learn from the experience we share generously.
Well, yes, maybe. It can work if what you give is audible for the other.
What we often don’t realize, is how something is only audible by someone who’s waiting to hear exactly what you have to share. Someone who has the means to understand what we are sharing.
in “On My Works as an Author” (1859) Søren Kierkegaard provides a beautiful description of how helping to see works.
If one is truly to succeed in leading a person to a specific place, one must first and foremost take care to find him where he is and begin there. This is the secret in the entire art of helping.
Anyone who cannot do this is himself under a delusion if he thinks he is able to help someone else. In order truly to help someone else, I must understand more than he – but certainly first and foremost understand what he understands. If I do not do that, then my greater understanding does not help him at all. If I nevertheless want to assert my greater understanding, then it is because I am vain or proud, then basically instead of benefiting him I really want to be admired by him. But all true helping begins with a humbling. The helper must first humble himself under the person he wants to help and thereby understand that to help is not to dominate but to serve, that to help is not to be the most dominating but the most patient, that to help is a willingness for the time being to put up with being in the wrong and not understanding what the other understands. (…) If you can do it, if you can very accurately find the place where the other person is and begin there, then you can perhaps have the good fortune of leading him to the place where you are.
To be a teacher is not to say: This is the way it is, nor is it to assign lessons and the like.
No, to be a teacher is truly to be the learner.
Instruction begins with this, that you, the teacher, learn from the learner, place yourself in what he has understood and how he has understood it, if you yourself have not understood it previously, or that you, if you have understood it, then let him examine you, as it were, so that he can be sure that you know your lesson. This is the introduction; then the beginning can be made in another sense.