Scars Are Tattoos With Better Stories

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Posted by admin | Posted in Mental | Posted on 04-12-2009

Earlier this week, as I was having lunch with a colleague, I observed a little girl walking on the stools that lined the front window of this particular restaurant.  Although these stools are bolted to the floor, the seats of the stools rotate freely, prompting me to casually remark to my colleague, “she’s going to bust her ass.”

Within five seconds of my uttering the words, the seat she was stepping onto next rotated, causing her to fall between the stools and hit her head on the steel footrest below.  Naturally, she started crying, upon which her parents, who were sitting a mere two tables away, picked her up and quietly began consoling her.

My initial judgement—and I now realize that’s what it was—was to think “that was dumb.”  But then I began to think about the lesson the lumpy little girl had just learned, and how she was unlikely to not only forget, but repeat the actions that had caused her such pain.

Growing in Spain, I use to spend my summers with my aunt (and godmother) in Gallur, a small village where my grandfather is from.  One particular season, shortly after arriving in Gallur for the summer, I wanted to ride the bicycle, one which I had always ridden, but the training wheels had been removed.  Upon inquiring about the lack of training wheels, my aunt just took me and the bicycle to a street, put me on the bicycle sans training wheels, and adamantly told me to go.  As bewildered as I felt, I was already wise enough to recognize her tone of voice, and so I went.  My aunt just turned around and went back home.

As I recall, the following hour was an especially painful one.  But the following hour wasn’t quite so.  The hour after that, I was going up and down that street at ridiculous speeds with a big grin on my face.  At the end of the day, despite the bruises and scuffs, I had just lived one of the best days of my life.  I had learned to ride a bike in two hours!

All of the mistakes, either due to poor judgement or just plain clumsiness, resulted in immediate feedback I was able to instantly apply.  To this day, I can get on any bike and pedal without even thinking about it.

The little girl’s parents could have tried to stop her.  Protect her.  Shield her.  Explain to her beforehand the risks of what she was about to do.  However, the fall from the stools, although momentarily painful, was far from potentially fatal.  If the little girl really wanted to walk on the stools, she was going to find a way to do so; no amount of warning was going to stop her.  Her parents were near enough to ameliorate any consequences.

My aunt did not take me to a busy street.  Not only was it essentially an alleyway with infrequent use, but there was full visibility to it from the house.  Even if I wasn’t aware of it, I was being monitored.  Actually, because I perceived that I was alone, thinking that there was nobody to console me as I took my lumps, I would simply just get up after each fall and try again.

Looking back over the years, the lessons I have never forgotten are those that were learned through direct “consequential” feedback.  (Don’t stand too close to the fire!)  No education or safety awareness program can cover the infinite “what ifs” that can realistically occur.  (The purpose of such programs is to generate an awareness of the most common potential consequences and provide us with a basic toolset with which we can hopefully mitigate “issues.”

The little girl was on the stools because she had no fear (or understanding) of the consequences of falling.  I was on the bicycle because the fear of angering my aunt was greater than the fear of falling.  Regardless of the motivation, we both learned valuable lessons in minimal amounts of time.

How often does fear prevent us from doing something we could potentially love?

Skydiving is an activity that inarguably has typically fatal consequences if something goes awry.  However, there are individuals with thousands for successful jumps.  Even though statistically it is still a relatively safe activity, we tend to call skydivers crazy, usually with colorful adjectives.  Yet, most of us have not experienced what they have.  The feeling of freefalling thousands of feet may well be worth the perceived risk.  I don’t know.  Yet.  Our perceptions, acquired from the opinions of others or through some form of education, may instill an irrational fear that ultimately prevents us from taking action.

There is no substitute for experience.

We have all heard or read this old adage, or some form of it.  But do we understand it?  What are we doing with our lives?  What are NOT doing with our lives?

Every new experience stretches our mind, increasing our capacity for understanding and tolerance.  To not do something because it is “too hard” or is “too much work” is the lament of the lazy and cowardly.

So take that trip.  Learn that skill.  Go scuba-diving.  Surfing.  Travel to a different continent.  Explore the Great Wall of China.  Divine the secrets of the Serengeti.  Climb a mountain.  Raft the Grand Canyon.  Hike a national park.  Open your eyes and your heart and DISCOVER.  Do it responsibly, but DO it.  FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS!

Experience is not what happens to you; it’s what you do with what happens to you

Aldous Huxley