I remember lying on top of cracked pots on a cool yet sunny Baguio day. Just a few seconds ago I was at the top of a steep hill, about to attempt what my older brother, Joseph, just did with no difficulty: ride a bike down the hill. For some reason I’ve already forgotten, I was using Joshua’s bike which had broken breaks (but we didn’t know that). My dad instructed me, “You can do this David. Just ride it down, break if you feel like you’re going too fast, that’s it.”
So I kicked off and started going down. Very quickly it was apparent that something was wrong. I couldn’t break and the sight of a row of plants on large pots, a lamppost, and a drop in front of me just kept getting closer. The next thing I know, I’m squinting at the glare of a bright sun, my head hurts like crazy, I can feel sharp ceramic and thorns on my skin, and I’m saying “Lord” over and over.
Then I saw my dad run up, worried as hell, check me, and then I felt thorns plucking out of my jacket as he lifted me. “You’re really a tough kid.” my dad said. “I told you not to pedal. I told you to break.” He continued. “I shouldn’t have pedaled but I couldn’t break” I explained.
When we got into the house my mom wiped the blood from the side of my head. “You’re really like Rambo now” my dad told me, and I remember picturing a bloody Rambo from a movie I used to watch over and over. “Yeah”. I replied proudly.
“Ok, rest a bit, let’s fix the breaks, then let’s go back out there.”
And we did. And I rode down the hill with no problem. And my dad and brothers and I rode down that hill, and other hills, and other paths, and trails, and roads.
I remember that incident and I realize now what my dad did, he wanted me to learn the right lesson. The lesson wasn’t that riding bikes downhill is dangerous. The lesson wasn’t you’re too small for steep hills. The lesson wasn’t you’re no good at biking. The lesson was: here’s how you conquer things. Here’s how you conquer cliffs. Here’s how you face your fears. Here’s how you get back up from failure.
It’s similar to when, just the day after my brother Joseph nearly killed both of us in a total car wreck by driving too fast, my dad throws the keys to his car and says, “You drive for us”. He wanted Joseph to learn how to be careful. He didn’t want him to learn how to be afraid of driving.
Many times I find that different people in very similar contexts, living in the same county, working in the same offices, or sitting in the same classrooms, walk away with very very different lessons.
Most people go to class thinking: I need to pass. The smartest people I know are always thinking: How do I understand. The former will learn how to pass (even if it involves cheating). The latter will learn how to understand. Guess who’ll become more successful?
Some people are stressed at work and learn: “My boss is an ass” or “I need a vacation” or “work sucks” or “the setup sucks”. The most productive people I know, the ones who make things happen, are learning: “What can I learn from my boss?”, “What can I improve?” or “How do I lead up?” or “How do I manage my time better so that I can be productive AND recharge?” or “How do I change my context to make me more efficient?” The earlier group will learn how to rationalize their mediocrity. The latter group will change their workplaces for the better.
Some people go through a breakup and learn: “I need to kiss dating goodbye” or “guys suck” or “girls are liars” or “everyone is a cheater” or “I’m not pretty” or “no one will ever want me”. Others will go through one and learn “That’s the last time I’m making looks my main priority” or “Next time I won’t rush” or “it’s time I really clearly state my values”. One group will become bitter, fearful, and probably terrible future partners or never have a partner (which isn’t so bad really). The other group will be wiser and better prepared for a new beginning.
Some people tried the entrepreneurial route, went bust, and learned: “It’s risky”, “There’s no money”, “It’s hard”, “I’m better off with a stable job”. Others will learn “So that’s what I should have done!”, “I need to choose my partners better”. Guess who will build that next great business?
A lot of religiously superstitious people will fail at something and chalk it up to it not being “God’s will”, and will miss the true learning opportunities. Maybe the lesson needed was stewardship and discipline. Maybe it’s perseverance.
A lot of people will see get-rich-quick stories and think that’s what they need to figure out instead of learning about timing, about character-building, about the reality of breaks.
Some people will see an evil person succeed, a violent man gain power, or a manipulative woman move ahead, they’ll learn that the world is unfair, that good people finish last. They’ll miss the lesson that we get what we run after, we get what we sacrifice for, but even more, they’ll miss the opportunity to reflect that maybe money, and power and fame aren’t the barometers of success, and they’ll miss the chance to know their own personal values.
All of these examples are to say one thing: As you go through life don’t learn the wrong lessons. The wrong lessons like I mentioned in my last article are lessons that teach us fear, teach us pride, teach us bitterness. They are the lessons that trap us under the guise of wisdom. They are the lessons that teach us to mistrust instead of learn who to trust. They are the lessons that harden us for the sake of security, that make us selfish for the sake of practicality, that teach us pride for the sake of self-esteem.
No one progresses by learning the wrong lessons. They will only make us more narrow minded. A narrow mind is a mind choked by the wrong lessons. It’s so full that new ideas, new concepts, even the consideration of new thoughts, can’t pass, so discovery is killed at inception.
Instead, learn the right lessons. Failure should teach you to improve. Heartbreak should show us that we can bounce back from anything, even more, heartbreaks should remind us of how broken the world is, and of how we desperately need God. Goliaths should remind us of the Davids that toppled them, and the faith that powered them. Darkness should activate us to be the lights, even better to daily live as a light, like a star automatically shining bright in a world of cold nights. If we foster a mind that learns the right lessons from anything, we will find that the wisdom we need to face the things we have to face, do the things we ought to do, and be the person we hope to be is not just available but all around us.