I recently resumed taking Yoga, something I used to do religiously back in the day when I was at my physical fitness peak. Since my son was born and in the months leading up to that, the priority of fitting in workouts had taken a back seat.
Actually, not just the back seat, more like the back of the bus. So for the past seven years it’s been child and work, work and child. During today’s Bikram Yoga class, the teacher inadvertently used the term, “if you have bad knees” and a trigger went off in my mind that shook me to my core. Of course no one has “bad” knees, rather we just have knees of different abilities, knees that can do more or less depending on our circumstances. They are just knees, they may be strong, they may be weak, they may be flexible or not, but they are our knees and we are blessed if we have them.
I remember many years ago I was in a college modern ballet dance production. Just so you know, ballet was not my strong suit. While I loved it very much, I was not classically trained. Anyhow, this piece ended with everyone including myself on tippy toes, leaning forward, arms ever so politely in a grand ballet style gesture and the back leg up and stretched back to the toe. In the last second of the pose, I felt my standing leg wobble and my ankle quivering. I remember thinking “well maybe nobody noticed.” I mean why would they be watching me anyway?
Following the performance, we were mingling with the audience, producers, teachers and choreographers. I was feeling pretty special and enjoying the accolades of our performance. At that moment, the Director of the Dance Program shook my hand and said to me, “You have bad ankles, that’s why you wobbled at the end.” I have to tell you hearing those words from a man that I admired so much had a lasting deep impact on me. For many years, I believed there were many things I could not do because I had “bad ankles.” Those words shook my confidence. They made me feel limited in my abilities, I mean how was I ever to succeed in life with bad ankles? I was very impressionable in my youth and like most young people, full of self-doubt and insecurity. This just confirmed all I had ever believed about myself, I am not to be a dancer.
The truth of course is that my ankles were not bad, in fact they were the ankles of a 19 year old, healthy, flexible young man. In fact, at that age, they were probably the best ankles I would have my whole life. I remember my father talking to me about good and bad, and how quick we are to judge, people, places and things as either good or bad and how it can change perception. I remember a story my father and I used to read together from the Taoist tradition, so it could easily be more than 2,000 years old.
It’s the story of a farmer and his horse.
One day his horse ran away. His neighbor came over to commiserate and says, “I’m so sorry about your horse.” And the farmer says “Who knows what’s good or bad?” The neighbor was confused because this was clearly terrible. The horse is the most valuable thing he owned.
But the horse came back the next day and he brought with him 12 feral horses. The neighbor came back over to celebrate, “Congratulations on your great fortune!” And the farmer replies again: “Who knows what’s good or bad?”
The next day the farmer’s son was taming one of the wild horses and was thrown from the horse and broke his leg. The neighbor comes back over, “I’m so sorry about your son.” The farmer repeats: “Who knows what’s good or bad?”
Sure enough, the next day the army comes through their village and is conscripting able-bodied young men to go and fight in war, but the son was spared because of his broken leg.
This story could go on and on like that. Good. Bad. Who knows?
But what’s the point?
Well, the meaning of that story is that the Western paradigm of labeling experiences good or bad — is wrong. It’s a false dichotomy. At the very least, the distinction between good and bad is not so clear; it’s blurry.
My father shared with me that it is not our place to judge if something is “good or bad,” because we don’t have the vision large enough to make this determination. Today, my six year old son will often ask me if something is good or bad, if a person is a good person or a bad person, and how does a person go from a good person to a bad person?
Like in the case of Anakin Skywalker, who started out as a young Jedi in training. Who would have thought that this boy we cheered for so much could turn to the dark side and later become Darth Vader? I often say to my son, that the person is not bad, but perhaps the choice they made was not a wise choice. Or perhaps others around them did not give them the opportunity to make good choices.
At Imua Family Services we often get preschoolers referred to us here who have been “released” from other preschools. These children have been labeled a “bad children,” because they exhibit poor or damaging behaviors. There is a whole community now of people in the Early Childhood field that are researching, learning and teaching about how to work with children with “bad behaviors” or “challenging behaviors.”
The sad truth is that many professionals do not want to work with these children because it adds additional challenges to the classroom. But what would happen to these children who were labeled “bad” if we started giving up on them and refused to work with them or excluded them from our preschool classrooms? Well, statistics show that just like me and my “bad ankle,” they will believe the label that is placed upon them. In fact, it is highly possible that they will become what they believe everyone is feeling about them. This kind of labeling can strip a child of any self-esteem, motivation and worst yet, give them an inward belief that they cannot do any better.
My son had a great idea recently, he said that all children should go to Jedi training. When I asked him why, he said, “All children would be treated as if they had the power to use the force to do good things in the world and defeat darkness.” The key thing here that stood out for me from my young Jedi teacher, is the idea to treat all children as beings with the power to use the force in them for good things, to treat them equally with the potential to be great in the world.
We have many children who are part of our Imua Family that some people have labeled as “bad children,” when the truth is, they are just children who need someone to believe in them. We must show every child without judgment their potential, or as I like to call it “the force” that they have within themselves to succeed. We must be careful with impressionable young minds and not become the judge who deems them as “good” or “bad.” Just like my “bad ankles” stunted me and stuck with me for so many years, these labels can deeply impact a child’s mind and deflate their ability to believe in themselves. However, if we provide positive support and help them believe in themselves, there is truly is nothing they can’t do.
The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. – Eleanor Roosevelt