Workshop Wednesday – Learn by Osmosis, Teach like Osiris

According to the mythology of the Great Ennead, Osiris was the great-grandson of Ra.

He inherited the throne as king of Egypt when Ra receded from the earth, and he was quite active in human affairs.

Osiris ruled justly, setting laws in place that led to a peaceful society, and taught the Egyptians agricultural techniques.

He was, effectively, one of mankind’s first great teachers, passing on his knowledge from the world of the gods, and into the world of men.

(That definition comes from Kathryn McClymond, Ph.D. Chair and Professor, Department of Religious Studies Georgia State University.)

Osmosis, on the other hand, is the process where something is absorbed into something else, despite a barrier between them.

Strictly speaking, two compartments are separated by a semi-permeable membrane.

As James Hardy from the University of Akron puts it, the size of the pores is large enough to let small particles (ions, molecules) pass freely though small enough to inhibit the passage of larger molecules.

That is what it means in physics, biology, and chemistry.

But what we normally mean in human terms is that if people are surrounded by a greater concentration of something (for example, knowledge – or prejudice – or a sense of humour) then it passes into them ‘as if by osmosis.’

They aren’t even aware that they are learning – it just soaks in. And here’s an important point.

That absorbing – by osmosis – is how most things are learned.

Over the past 60 years, I’d like to think I’ve learned a bit.

Some of it by Osiris – those figures who passed on knowledge and information to me, in a formal training sense .. and some by osmosis – others who taught me, for good or ill, simply by being who they are.

We learn either by information being imparted from above – the god-model, or Osiris … or we learn by absorbing the examples around us – by osmosis.

We not only learn that way – we also TEACH that way – whether we mean to or not.

I am involved in education at a number of levels.

I teach journalism and public speaking – sometimes for money as a trainer, and sometimes for love with Toastmasters.

My thoughts on teaching can be summed up in the words of musician Tim Minchin – “Please – be a teacher. Even if you are not a teacher, BE A TEACHER. Share your Ideas. Rejoice in what you learn, and spray it around.”


If you doubt me, consider this … if you have children, their most deep-seated lessons have come from you – whether intended or not.

If you have a supervisory role at work, what your colleagues learn from you may not be what you intend.

Let’s say you have a tendency to .. let things slide.

You don’t just put something off until tomorrow – you put it off until the absolute last moment.

(That snickering you can hear in the background is my family – they’ve been observing this from me for years.)

But what lessons are you teaching with that attitude? What are your family, your colleagues, learning from you?

As I say, it’s almost certainly NOT the lesson you want to deliver.

Oh, you can present information on how to manage time, and how to be efficient – but unless you are prepared to change your observed behaviour then your message is going to be diluted – or ignored.

Why? Because, quite frankly, osmosis is a much more powerful influence than Osiris.

We have to think, in order to absorb information from ‘on high’ – but are constantly surrounded by others and absorb their influence without thinking.

If you have information that’s worth sharing, then share it.

But next time you think about just letting it slide, just remember that while Osiris stopped teaching us eventually – the lessons we teach, by osmosis, will continue forever.

So don’t just talk the talk. You need to walk the walk as well.

Teach like Osiris – be the spreader of knowledge and information.

But be aware that what you SAY is only part of what you are teaching. What you DO makes up the rest.

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