Once upon a time (a long, long time ago), I had an instructor named Ralph Lowe. Mr. Lowe hated when I guessed answers, shouting them out, wanting to be right, trying to be a part of the class and sound smart. One day, he even let me know that he was so displeased with my method of participation that he said I was just, “shooting darts in the dark.” What he was referring to was a comparison of my calling out guesses of what the answer could be to the act of blindly throwing darts at a dart board and hoping one of them might hit the center target and stick. Back then, I understood the parallel, but didn’t appreciate the comparative. In fact, it bothered me so bad that for the remainder of most of my life, I withheld offering up answers, speaking out with other people, and ran away to an alternate dimension to silently watch life from the dark rather than live it with other people.
I didn’t like feeling stupid. Nobody does. It’s natural to want to be recognized by one’s peers and accepted by groups, looked up to, and even admired. Because of the status this particular teacher had at that particular school, I actually looked up to him and respected his opinions, wanting to be given the same respect and recognition that he so frequently gave to other students. At the time, I knew there was a bias and that some of the so-called “correct” answers by other students were not so correct but the teacher praised them nonetheless. There was something they were doing that had earned his respect that no matter how hard I tried, I could not accomplish.
Now, many decades later, I understand that it all came down to ego. This teacher wanted to be the smart one. He wanted to be admonished by his students (in their “simplicity”). He even felt justified in attacking me, not seeing that they were attacks, but rather, a necessity (to assert his dominance or maybe in his own way … help?). I wanted to go beyond. I wanted to think outside of the box and dig deeper. Rather than receiving recognition or encouragement, I was shamed and humiliated in front of my peers. I know that in some, small way, he was trying to get me to “think” before I answer and to formulate an idea … but he was too focused on his own ego to realize that I had already been doing that (not to mention that embarrassing someone in front of their peers when they’re desperately struggling for acceptance is a really nasty thing to do to a kid). He couldn’t see that I did have an idea and it wasn’t arbitrary. It may have been different and seemed wrong because he was focused on a specific answer … but that’s how ego works. You can talk to someone and they’ll hear nothing except what they want to hear … right or wrong … intentional or unintentional … normal … or Johnny Bravo … (HAHAHAHA):
What the teacher saw as a failure in education and a student who wasn’t even trying couldn’t have been farther from the truth. I was, in fact, trying the only way I knew how. I grew up in a world where trying to forcibly interject myself was the only chance for emotional survival. It’s not wrong to want someone to think before they answer … but everyone operates differently and not everyone will formulate the identical answer … and that’s part of life. Just look at what this blog is about (in the about section) – it’s about thinking and being informed. That lesson did stick with me … but not because of Mr. Lowe. You have to lead a person into a solution, or let them be wrong, and then guide them forward, not insult their effort. Knowledge isn’t magic, it requires information and then letting people sort through the truth on their own. That lesson … I learned elsewhere. You see, I wasn’t the only one with the wrong answers, and I knew it. The others struggled just as much, but stayed silent out of fear of being embarrassed. But, why? Why should we ever be embarrassed for trying? Have you ever watched Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune and shouted out the answers and been wrong? Maybe you won’t play the game in real life because of your fear of embarrassment, but in the safety of your own home … you want to be right, too. You want to know you can be successful. You want to believe that you’re worthy of being on that show, recognized by your peers, and looked up to.
But, you still do it from your own living room. Why? Because we live in a society of shaming. Saying something out loud that’s wrong gets the other kids in school to laugh at you; which then translates to being an adult who is ridiculed for saying something incorrect and being disrespected. But, isn’t trying to understand part of what life’s about? Isn’t it about trying? If we never try … and we never fail … then how will we ever be … more? And, we’ll never have the fun of making stupid answers and laughing at ourselves later for it … (thanks to South Park!)
But, one harsh jab; one cruel statement; or some self-inflated egotistical lashing of another human being can have life long ramifications. I decided to never “throw darts in the dark again.” I would always keep my eye on the goal … and in doing so … I lost a LOT.
See, life’s successes are not measured by a single dart in the center of a dart board. Life’s successes are measured by those everyday moments, both good and bad, and how you learned from them. What I didn’t understand as a child was that …
Mr. Lowe was throwing darts in the dark, too!
That’s right! And, his teaching style, mannerisms, and behavior meant that a lot of those darts landed nowhere near the dartboard. For example, the hurtful statement he made to me, tearing down my efforts to be accepted by him like he accepted everyone else, was not a well thrown dart. But, he didn’t know that’s what I was trying to do. He didn’t know I was seeking attention, friendship, and guidance. He was, with his eyes wide shut, in the dark, having convinced himself that he was always looking at the goal.
I couldn’t see it then, and for most of my life, I had become so determined to never be treated stupid again, that I still couldn’t see the truth right in front of my face. I wasn’t an idiot. I was a messed up kid. The teacher was wrong. He had the incredible opportunity to shape and mold a young person who would listen to him, follow him, and admire him in all things … just like he wanted … and he threw it away in a single sentence; on a warm, Spring day; on a whim.
What’s the take away? Now I can stand back and look at the wall of my life and see it for what it really is:
My wall is covered with darts from top to bottom. A few stuck near the center, but most of them went in every other direction (just read some of the nutty posts on my blog … they are all over the place!!). See, if you focus so intently at the center of the dart board that you can’t see the big picture … you might as well be throwing darts in the dark. Life’s not a single spot … it’s an infinite wall of possibilities and if you never put yourself out there … you’ll never see those possibilities. Instead, you’ll give up one day, sad, feeling like all you’ve ever done is fail because your darts aren’t all focused at the center of the board that you manifested.
But … that’s not true. Every dart … every hit, good or bad, was a part of your life that you learned from. And, that’s how you ‘really’ win the game. Practice makes perfect, but encouragement and timing are as equally important to be successful.
Learning is the same way. If you never stray because your eyes are wide shut, focused on a single answer with no possibility of deviation … you’ll never know the truth. You have to look further, stretch outward, and go beyond the text on a page to fully understand what’s being said. You have to use all of your faculties, the wide-spread range of darts scattered along the wall, to find the real truth. This has been the staple of science for centuries, leading human beings to new dimensions of quantum reality and existence. After all, what’s published today is as different from 100 years ago as it will be 100 years from now.
If you don’t try … if you never reach out … you’ll never see what’s beyond the simplistic and meaningless. Sometimes you’ll be wrong. Sometimes you’ll be ridiculed. But, you can’t let that crush you like it did to me. You can’t let one person’s mistreatment of you become a life-long alteration to your very being that you lose touch with who you really are. Faith is the same way, too. In fact, faith can be defined as: ‘hope and belief in those things which cannot be seen or known’. It takes a strong heart to have faith … to shoot darts in the dark … to never know if they’re sticking … to be ridiculed and shamed along the path … and all because of a universal desire to be accepted and loved.
So, go ahead! Get out there and throw those intellectual darts in the darkness. Do something different, risky, and new! (No … not “I’m possibly going to jail if I do this, risky,” ’cause that’s just stupid). Shout out the answer you sincerely believe in, interject yourself into a conversation, travel the road less traveled, and try something new. You may not be right, but you’ll learn why and do better next time. You can’t assume that your dartboard is perfect, either. Sometimes, focusing too much on a single end goal deprives you of real opportunities. You have to open your eyes and see the whole wall to realize that your dart has a whole new focus and may have opened up new paths forward. Normally, it doesn’t take any effort because … well … you’re doing it right now. Reading this is a shot in the dark! Will it pay off? Will you be happy? Will you realize I’m a terrible writer? Who knows? But, some things you can do intentionally! For example, are you in a relationship? Try something wild and new … safe and fun … and see what happens. Even if your dart isn’t on target, it may be close and you’ll learn new things about yourself and the person you love. But, be informed. Don’t be totally in the dark (like making a peanut butter picnic surprise for kids who are allergic to peanuts … yeah .. no … that’s a REALLY bad idea and a good example of ignorance and not throwing darts in the dark!)!! Educate yourself and make educated guesses. It doesn’t matter what other people say. If it did … you wouldn’t be here because Christopher Columbus would still be playing on his dartboard in the Spanish prison where Ferdinand II would have left him (for playing hanky panky with the the little miss!)!
Learn. Grow. Live.
And, when your Mr. Lowe puts you down … the one you were reaching out to for acceptance, try to remember that he’s not as perfect as you might have built him up to be and that he’s only throwing darts in the dark, too! We all are. When you can see that, you’ll finally see what ‘can be’, vs. what you wish it would have been. Again … just don’t wait as long as I did to figure that out.
Good Luck, and thanks for reading!
“There’s always something in the game you wish you would have done different. That’s why players improve, because they learn from what they did before. they might have been guessing before, but now they know.” – Gordie Howe