Last night I saw an old woman in her heavy cotton pyjamas and her belt of authorita giving a demonstration. She proved, beyond all expectations, that her self-defence art only works if the attacker obligingly holds himself in the right position.
It reminded me of my childhood and the various martial arts renaissances – most particularly karate. There seemed to be an army of black belts sprouting, like dragon’s teeth, all claiming that they were invincible. Most went on to point out that you were not attacking them in the right way when they were unable to fell you with a “deft monkey” or something like that.
All of this brought me on the handful of finishers’ medals that I have for various silliness. I put those in a similar league to the non-competitive sports-days and electoral reform…I know my mind is as cluttered (and as filthy) as a teenager’s bedroom!
The medals slice up two ways. Yes, they are a symbol of the achievement of finishing, and that separates those of who received one from many. In truth though, the bravery to start is the distinguishing feature and I do not just say that because I lacked the imagination to contemplate not finishing once I got to the starting line. Beyond this symbol, these are as worthless as the representative shirts in my drawer. They can not conceal the fact that I am not top class. I am not just being self-deprecating here, the evidence is that the achievement is limited.
I think we have lost something somewhere along the line, or perhaps I am just over-romanticising by pretending that we ever really had it –
The ability to acknowledge and appreciate the attempt
The candour to recognise that for what it is worth.
You had a go. Good on you. You put something in and what you got out was ok. It can be more (it may need to be more!) [I don’t think these brain dumps through before unleashing them on the world, so please bear with me if I have lost the thread].
There are examples of this in all walks of life, just because you have an opinion does not mean anything. I have an awareness of anatomy and physiology but you would have to be clinically certifiable to let me operate on you!
I live in a democratic society, so, gods love you, I have to accept that you have a right to think and to believe what you like. And I will defend your right to that. But democracy also requires an adult understanding, a comprehension that there are consequences to enacting your opinion. Not only that but living in a group setting, you will have to get comfortable with the concept that other people will have different views. Consequently for implementation, somebody is likely to see theirs left behind. How we figure out which will probably come down to a decision about how convincing one is, how valid it appears in light of the group’s norms or popular support.
I may have a preference for dispensing with training altogether for a marathon. And it works for me, at least in so far as I finished! Is it a sensible approach that I would recommend to anybody else? No – it’s bloody stupid. Doing something just because somebody else is doing it is daft, but on reflection, no more so than not doing it because it because nobody else is. Neither is automatically right or wrong.
That is part of life’s rich pageant – the discovery of the lessons. And if we say that everything is equally valid, we miss the chance to learn from the stuff that is not right. OK, we need, occasionally, some external encouragement, or to feel that we can not fail in order to brave the attempt. But it is the failing that teaches. It is not final and that is what “not being able to fail” feels like. It is not being consequence free. It is the awareness that we can fail but knowing that we will learn from it…and that gives scope to find a victory down every path.
Back to my original muse – this is why we need to recognise the smell of our own crap, so we do not just swallow it!
We learn – we start from scratch and we know nothing. So we memorise the key facts, the headline cases to be able to recall them. Then we develop the principles and the concepts so that now we have a picture as we apply them. Here we are in danger of forming dogma and becoming rigid in thought.
If we are open we can start to see exceptions, become aware of what we do not know, of where our knowledge fails us. This is when we start to use the principles in a different way to solve the problem. Now we are starting to learn the art. We have grown out of mechanistic application and developed the ability to flex what we do know in ways outside of its original context.
Thus we develop a much more intimate understanding of our craft. Once we find the humility to accept the possibility that we do not have all the answers, only then do we start to uncover mastery.
Short version – beware the “one true way” and be prepared to face some disappointment!