© 2010 Douglas Tong, all rights reserved
Topic: Whether it
is better to be loved or feared.
The following anecdote comes to me from
a friend of mine who told me about an early teaching experience of
When I first began teaching and had opened up my own dojo, I had a
wonderfully skilled student whom we will name Patrick (not actually
his real name). Patrick was a single male and in his early twenties
at the time. He was very skilled, a teacher’s dream come true. He
had a great sense of coordination and was physically talented.
Whatever I taught him in terms of technique, he picked up easily and
quickly. I didn’t have to struggle to make him perform techniques
correctly. He was enthusiastic and energetic. Naturally, he became
the star pupil of the dojo.
Problem was, he knew it too. Being the best in the dojo, with
no better student to aspire towards, he gradually became arrogant.
Being better than everyone else and knowing that he was more skilled
than everyone else, he started telling people what to do in terms of
how to perform the techniques. At the time, I really wanted to
encourage his independence and his growth so I did not put a stop to
this. I did not want to squelch his growing confidence.
Now that I think back on it, I was too green an instructor at
that time. I should have put a stop to it right away. Instead, he
took my lack of action as a green light to continue what he was
doing. He started developing his own ideas on what the techniques
meant and how they should be performed, and he started telling the
students his version when he instructed them on a certain technique
here and there. The other senior students started to resent Patrick’s
growing authority in the dojo and came to me to complain. Eventually,
Patrick stopped listening to what I had to say, convinced that he was
Finally, I pulled him into my office to have a talk. He did not
like our talk and didn’t agree with what I had to say and
eventually, a couple of months later, he left the dojo. Now, in
retrospect, while I feel that I brought him along nicely in a
technical sense, I failed at the same time in teaching him in a moral
Now I think it important to make sure each student knows the
limits and boundaries of how far they can go in terms of their
behaviour in the dojo. I have not had a similar recurrence since.
While there are many lessons that could
be pulled from this case, for the purposes of this article, I will
focus on one. This is actually a common situation with beginning
teachers in any field of expertise. We fondly remember from our
student days teachers who inspired us, who helped us along the way,
who cared for us in one way or another. Naturally, we want to help
our students and to be similarly remembered by our students, for
being kind, for being nurturing, for guiding them in their growth.
And therein lies the potential pitfall.
Being a beginning teacher, it is hard
to be tough on your students. You didn’t like your tough teachers
or your mean teachers. Some were too strict, others too hard. You
hated their class, their style of teaching. And you are determined
that you will not become like them. I am not like them, you say to
yourself. I will teach my own students much better.
What usually happens is that we try
hard to be the very antithesis of what we detest. And in the trying,
we swing a little too much to the other side. We are too kind, too
“At the time, I really wanted to encourage his independence
and his growth so I did not put a stop to this. I did not want to
squelch his growing confidence.”
What happened in the case of Patrick
above was that the teacher overlooked the brewing storm that was
Patrick. A model student in the technical sense, easy to teach, easy
to achieve success with, a monument to your teaching skill. But while
the technical prowess was developing in leaps and bounds, so too was
the ego and the pride. In the quest to develop this student, too many
other issues were allowed to slide; conveniently ignored, swept under
the rug so to speak, left to be dealt with at a later date.
Confrontations are difficult under the
best of circumstances. Beginning teachers are idealistic. It’s not
a bad thing. We need that idealism. It’s what drives us forward,
day after day. Otherwise, we would pack it in. But it’s easy to get
lost in that enthusiasm and idealism.
“Instead, he took my lack of action as a green light to continue
what he was doing. He started developing his own ideas on what the
techniques meant and how they should be performed, and he started
telling the students his version when he instructed them on a certain
technique here and there.”
The student has started to lose his
respect for the teacher. The teacher is a push-over. I can lead this
class my way. And if unchecked, pretty soon, he will. The teacher has
lost control of the student. With no moral compass to guide him, the
student begins to create his own ideas and his own fictions on what
the art is and how it should be done. Once the student starts to
believe he can run the class, it will be difficult to rein him in.
The teacher’s aura of authority has dissipated and this is when the
student loses respect for the teacher.
How to avoid this situation?
I was thinking about this problem,
turning it over in my head. Coincidentally, my youngest son was
watching Star Wars (Episode 4) at the time and I was in the room when
the scene comes up where the Imperial officers have their meeting on
the newly built Death Star. And I overheard this exchange:
TAGGEHow will the Emperor maintain control without the bureaucracy?
TARKINFear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle
The first words that popped into my
mind were: “Exactly!”
I guess one line of thinking would be
that without some sense of fear, there is no respect. Fear and
Well one thought led to another. I had
read those words before, used together before, somewhere.
Machiavelli!! Yes, yes. From my days in POLI 291, Political Theory.
I pulled out my copy of The
and looked through it. Presto! There it was, in
"From this arises the following
question: whether it be better to be loved than feared or
feared than loved?
The answer is that one would like to be
both the one and the other; but, because it is difficult to combine
them in one person, it is far better to be feared than loved, if you
cannot be both. One can make this generalization about men: they are
ungrateful, fickle, liars, and deceivers, they shun danger and are
greedy for profit; while you treat them well, they are yours. They
would shed their blood for you, risk their property, their lives,
their children, so long, as I said above, as danger is remote; but
when you are in danger, they turn against you. Any prince who has
come to depend entirely on promises, and has taken no other
precautions, ensures his own ruin; friendship which is bought with
money, and not with greatness and nobility of mind is paid for, but
it does not last, and it yields nothing. Men worry less about doing
an injury to one (ie. offending one) who makes himself loved than to
one who makes himself feared. The bond of love is one which men,
wretched creatures that they are, break when it is to their advantage
to do so; but fear is strengthened by a dread of punishment which is
always effective. "
Very interesting. In the case of
Patrick, perhaps this is what he needed. Will it work with everyone?
I don’t think so but this is my opinion only. As a teacher,
sometimes, you need to encourage and to inspire. Other times, as we
say in school teaching, you need the hammer. Some students respond better to
encouragement. Some like positive reinforcement like praise. Some
need to be inspired by just a word or a novel concept. Others need to
be cajoled. Some need to be pushed and prodded. And for some,
negative consequences (real or imagined) are a driving force.
Is one technique better than another?
No. It is just a matter of correct analysis, judicious use, and
Encouragement… The hammer…
Love and fear.
For more information on The
For more information about Machiavelli:
Online text of The Prince
Mr. Tong has a Master’s
in Education in Curriculum Studies.