The best way to show people true things is from a direction that they had not imagined the truth coming. -Neil Gaiman
If you are a child of the 70s and 80s like many of us, this blog will resonate with you. If you are a reader that is a newer model of a human being, then this blog may rattle your intellectual and emotional cage. Buckle up, because sometimes the truth hits pretty hard.
As Americans we have embraced many ideas about our way of life that symbolized our culture. We have believed throughout past generations that our status as Americans has placed us above other nation states in terms of what we may become and what we may be able to achieve. Work ethic, opportunity, and talent aside, the mere fact that we are Americans gives us an advantage. If you are a 70s or 80s kid, our contemporaries that grew up alongside us in the former Soviet Union were seen as oppressed. They did not have the same opportunities as those in which we were blessed.
As Americans, we have been told that if we work hard enough, we can achieve whatever we set out to achieve. We have been told that whatever our dreams and desires may be, we can achieve them.
This is simply not true.
This statement seems pretty harsh. For many of you, it hits below the belt. It directly confronts what we have held dear as Americans. It may arouse emotions in you that you may not want to confront. This is especially true if you have children of your own.
In life, it is often easier to embrace a comfortable falsehood than to confront an uncomfortable truth. Let us ask ourselves: Are we deceiving ourselves and those we love by embracing an idea that on its face is false?
Somewhere in America right now, there is a short, overweight, athletically challenged boy that is a basketball fanatic. He is a huge LeBron James fan. He may be confronted with medical issues that will forever preclude him from achieving high levels of athletic prowess. Are we setting this young man up for failure by telling him that if he works hard enough and dreams big enough that he can be the next Michael Jordan? Are we wielding a hammer that will smash his hopes and dreams, albeit unintentionally and out of love?
Somewhere in America right now, there is a girl that dreams of becoming an oncologist. She may come from a disadvantaged background. She may suffer from an overwhelming learning disability that makes the most basic academic tasks seem like an unscalable summit. In school, one step forward on her academic journey is often accompanied by three steps backwards. Based on her academic deficiencies and the lack of opportunity offered in the school in which she finds herself, her dream may elude her.
Unintentionally or intentionally, leading someone astray concerning their hopes, dreams, and desires is an act of cruelty that has no equal. It cuts deep and leaves a scar that if on the skin would be a shameful blemish. As parents, mentors, coaches, teachers, and instructors, reciting a mantra that if we are honest with ourselves is tantamount to fantasy is leading our children down a path of despair. What do we owe them? It’s simple. We owe them the truth. We owe them, in love, the truth.
This may seem caustic. Nothing could be further from reality. Instead of allowing a child, or an adult for that matter, to chase an unattainable goal based on their life experiences or their physical, emotional or intellectual shortcomings is a dull knife to their heart. We owe it to those we love to be honest with them. Speak the truth in kindness. Speak the truth in an encouraging way. Speak the truth in a supportive way. Instead of sending those we love on a hunt for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, let’s walk with them on their path in finding their true talent and purpose in life. Let’s tell them, in love, that the dreams they have may not happen, and for a myriad of reasons, may not be a part of their future. The first step on that journey is to let them know that the dreams of childhood may be only that- a dream. As mentors, what we owe those that look up to us as role models is a rudder in a sea of uncertainty. That rudder is guided by the truth.
As a martial arts teacher, I see this very often. In the United States, the dropout rate in the martial arts hovers around 80%. Think about that. For every 10 new students, eight will drop out. We may be safe in assuming that among those eight dropouts were students that thought they would be the next Steven Seagal. Among those eight dropouts were students that dreamed of standing in the Octagon in Las Vegas and being crowned the Light Heavyweight Champion of the World in the UFC. Generally speaking, in the martial arts, people come to the conclusion on their own that what they envisioned in the dojo is not in their future. On occasion, I have had to counsel students that although free to continue in my class, they may be better suited for other activities in life. Karate is not for everyone. There is no shame in that, and I feel a deep sense of joy when I see former students that have found something in life that they are truly good at that brings them joy. The truth in our relationship served as a signpost leading them to their destination. We all have special talents. We just have to find them, and the first step in that investigation is being honest with ourselves and those we love.
My instructor had this conversation with me as I came up through the ranks. Shortly after I was promoted to Black Belt in 1999, he told me-rather bluntly- that I would be a much better teacher than a competitor. I had competed for many years, with some success. This was a bit of a kick to the stomach. The truth he was relaying to me was temporal. I can teach for the rest of my life. The days in which I can compete at the highest level are behind me. At that moment, the truth as he imparted it to me hit like a meteor to the gut. Today, I see his words as the ultimate act of love. He prepared me for the long term and gave me wise counsel that removed unneeded obstacles along my journey.
The truth is, we cannot be anything we want to be in life. Whatever the pursuit in life, sometimes there are obstacles in the way that are meant to lead us down the path we are truly meant to follow.
Growing up in North Carolina on Tobacco Road in the 80s, I was somewhat like the fictional boy we were introduced to in this blog. I thought it would be a dream come true to play basketball for an ACC school. I was told by my parents and those whom I looked up to that if I worked hard enough, I could make it. I didn’t and thank God I didn’t. I would have missed the blessings that I now have in my life with my martial arts and the people that God has put in my life as a result of my love for the arts.
Let’s find the talents that our children or our students have been given by God. Develop them. Guide them. And above all, be honest with them.
Until next time, take care of each other.