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The mentor’s rod of correction

Spider’s Web with CHEELA CHILALA
MR CARL Samarajiwa was my biggest mentor in secondary school. Not just because he encouraged me and helped sharpen my writing abilities, but more so because he did not spare me when I went wrong.
I particularly remember one incident which occurred some time in my tenth grade. He had given the class a composition exercise and as usual I expected a high mark.
To my utter shock, he gave me the lowest grade he had ever given me. Although it was not the lowest grade in the class, it was far below my normal range of grades. Deflated and confused, I went through what I wrote over and over again but could not see anything wrong with it: the grammar was kosher, so was the punctuation.
I plucked up some courage and approached Sama when he came for the next lesson. “Sir,” I said, showing him my English book, “I don’t understand what I did wrong for me to get this low mark.”
He looked at me then said, in that quiet way of his: “You are right, there is nothing wrong with your grammar or punctuation.”
Then he added: “There is only one problem with your work, Cheela.” How could my composition be good and still have a problem? I wondered.
“You changed your style and used big words,” he said in father-to-son fashion. “You are a good writer,” he explained, “but this time you changed your style and used bombastic language.” What was wrong, I wondered to myself, with using high-flown language?
Sama continued: “I have given you the low mark because I do not want you to go astray. Using big words does not make you a good writer. I understand the big words you have used, but when you write for the general public, they may not understand. I have been harsh with you because you are a good student.”
“Thank you sir,” I said and went back to my seat.
Though I still felt unhappy that I got the low mark, I got Sama’s point. The teacher cared about me so much that he did not want me to lose direction by becoming preoccupied with bombastic language.
Why wasn’t he that harsh on the students in the class who always used big words? It dawned on me then that he wanted to protect my writing talent. He did not care about the other students as much as he did about me.
It was a lesson well learnt; and I have never departed from it, to this day. I realised, especially when I went to UNZA and studied literature, that writing is about communication – period; not about impressing or depressing the audience with bombastic language.
I apply the same principle even in my spoken communication. The point is this: if by using bombastic language your audience does not understand you, or struggles to understand you, then have you communicated?
If your audience does not understand you because of bombastic language, whether through written or spoken means, then you actually have not communicated.
What is the point of having an audience that cannot understand you, or that needs to frequently turn to the dictionary to understand you?
I thank God for the correction I got from Sama. He did not spare me the “rod” of correction.
True mentorship does not mean merely praising the mentee; it also means being tough with them.
Granted, it is important for a mentor to praise and encourage the mentee – and Sama did that to me.
But then it is equally important for the mentor to also know when to use the rod of correction on the mentee, even when it seems harsh. The mentor’s rod brought me back to the right path.