Three years ago a new friend had a reaction to something, in a completely unguarded moment, that started a chain reaction in my mind which led me to switch to a vegan diet. Today in Vienna I saw this same friend and told him, for the first time, how profoundly that moment had affected me. He seemed both surprised and deeply gratified, as though I had given him a wonderful gift. And I suppose I had, although I was simply describing something he had given to me.
It is at moments like this that I suspect that the effect people have upon each other is never primarily intellectual, as much as we would like to believe it is. We pick up emotions from each other, passions and deeply held convictions. And if those passions and convictions resonate within us — if they cause an emotional ring of truth to stir within our own heart — only then do we fill out the story on an intellectual level.
I see now that I do something similar in my teaching. I don’t merely show my students the intellectual beauty of the subject I am teaching. Rather, I always let the class see how I myself am moved by it. I let my own sheer wonder and enthusiasm come through, without trying to cover it with a veneer of professional disinterest.
The best gift that one can give as a teacher is genuine enthusiasm. I sincerely believe that students are moved to put in the necessary work not because their teacher has told them that a subject is interesting and exciting, but because their teacher is, himself, interested and excited by it.