Why You Shouldn’t Make People Characters in the Examples You Use to Teach Them

Let’s picture you walking toward your home with 4 peaches in your hands.

As you step up the ledge leading up to your front door, you drop one on the ground. Since you didn’t think to purchase a paper bag at the grocery store, you’ve paid for it at your front door. 

If you did purchase the bag at the store however, you’d only have enough money left to buy 3 peaches alongside it. 

You’d end up with 3 peaches in the end of both scenarios as they were presented above. By not buying a bag, you’d evidently adopt more risk for greater reward. 

You’d risk dropping peaches on the way home in a bet to end up with 4 peaches; one more than if you’d bought a bag. However, you could trip on a particularly protruded ledge and drop all 4 of your peaches resulting in a mushy mess.

The example above is meaningless. You were its peach-loving protagonist though. 

Your hypothetical intellect, luck, and image was at the whim of this article’s direction. You could’ve been written in to be a homeless person or a billionaire. You could’ve been the character who is an example of what not to do, or you could’ve been the character in an example of what you should’ve done. 

This article is about being cautious in using the people you’re explaining something to, as characters in the examples you use to explain those things. 

Below are two reasons why it is generally not a thing which elicits those same individuals to like you for writing them into the examples you use to teach. 

The New Art and Science of Teaching


A Distraction Away From the Lessons That You Teach


If your parents named you a common name, you’ve likely had your attention swayed in public places more than the rest. 

Your name could’ve been called out by voices which seemed familiar only to not be intended to capture your attention. Akin to giving someone a high five as they attempt to give a high five to the person walking right behind you, you’ve likely turned around with an increased heart rate when you heard your name in public before. 

Your common name would be an effective distraction if you were trying to do something important in a public space. It’s safe to say your focus would be hindered if the people around you constantly called out your name for reasons unrelated to you.

We are important characters by our perception, and in the world that we fit into. By not being able to escape the first person perspective through which you’re reading these words, you have no choice but to constantly live behind the eyes of your organic vessel. 

Using people as characters in the examples you aim to teach them with serves to distract. It introduces an unnecessary step of attempting to detach their identity from the characters that you use in those examples. You give them more work to do as you hope of having your examples stick. 

It may have been easier to detach your identity from the scenario in question in the peach example above. 

However, if the example started off with, “Let’s picture you got cancer,” you’d have more trouble objectively interpreting the example as it went on. 

How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching


The Creator of an Example Holds the Power to Rag-doll the Characters in It


Assuming the position of a teacher grants you power. If those listening on are willing to learn something from you, then they inherently allow you to lead them toward the lessons you aim to teach. 

They focus on the evidence you present, they follow the examples you give, and they trust they conclusions you draw. 

In holding that sort of social power, momentary it may be, you can go on to abuse it. One way of abusing your teaching power is to obviously relish in it. 

One way of overly enjoying the power you’re granted with while teaching others is to embarrass those whom you make examples of. Though you may not mean to do it, dragging those listening to you through the examples you conjure can be perceived as an abuse of power.

They’ll be involuntarily inserted into a hypothetical story for you to shape at your will. They won’t know whether you’ll make them look good or bad in the examples you give. They won’t know if you’ll go on to make them seem foolish in the examples you create in an effort to teach a broader lesson. 

To you, your examples may seem innocent, even though they included the people you teach as characters in them. Remember though, you’re treading sensitive waters when inserting people into your examples without their ability to control outcomes. 

Even if you don’t go on to embarrass those you make examples of, having their character’s fate in your hands would be a display of the power that you hold over them in that situation. 

They’d feel you flexing the muscles that your role as a teacher grants you. You’d show them that as the creator of the examples you use to teach, your position would inherently be more powerful than the one that characters in your stories are given. You’d establish yourself as the one in control, while those who are made characters are unable to control how they’re presented in your stories. 



Disclaimer of Opinion: This article is presented only as opinion. It does not make any scientific, factual, or legal claims in any way.