You just don’t know
One of the things I am honoured to do is to teach children martial arts and life skills. It’s rewarding beyond words.
I was recently inspired even more when my guru and spiritual teacher (a famous yogi) put this to me in a very straight forward way. He told me “When you teach, it’s not so much the words you say, it’s your vibration. You are inspiring these children and improving the quality of their lives, which in turn will carry on through to their children and their children’s children“. Wow, I thought. That’s powerful stuff, that’s changing the world, and that’s why I teach!
With this comes great responsibility. I was reminded of this today. A new student started the class. He was just ten years of age, quiet and his mom seemed very strict. We were only minutes into the class when I spotted that something was wrong. During the warm-up the new student was just leaning up against the wall. ‘Shy’, I thought. So over I went to offer some encouraging words. I wasn’t expecting the reply I received. He just told me “NO”. I light heartedly explained the importance of the warm-up and joining in, to which he aggressively replied “I don’t wanna to do YOUR STUPID CLASS”. More words of encouragement seemed to only exacerbate the situation. I have witnessed children with learning disabilities and behavioral issues but this seemed different. The more I tried to get him involved, the more volatile he became, eventually becoming very aggressive and a potential danger to the rest of the students. For everyone’s safety I had to ask him to sit out and as his unwillingness to co-operate continued I was forced to raise my voice and threaten to expel him from the class mainly due to the reason that I perceived him to be a potential danger to other students. Ensuring he was sat out of harms way I explained I’d be informing his mom about what had happened and that he would not be invited back to my club.
I returned to teaching the rest of the class but after only a minute I looked over to check the new student hadn’t gone awol and that’s when I noticed something. A real sadness in his eyes, more than sadness. I’d say he looked lost and disconnected.
I asked my assistant instructor to take over the class – I’d had an idea. Well actually it was more of a feeling than an idea… I went over to the new student and said “right, let’s start this again. Let’s forget what just happened and I’ll teach you how to punch really hard, and even better than that I’ll teach you how to get people to like you”. It’s when I said those last few words he looked up at me, his eyes widened. I said “it’s easy, trust me” and offered my hand for a hand shake. A smile crossed my face when he accepted and he came to join the rest of the class. His behavior improved on the spot. I spent a bit of time with him and I could tell he’d obviously already done some boxing. I stuck to my word about teaching him what I promised… I challenged him to be a good person and told him if he could be a good person then good things would happen to him. I gave a couple of examples and even though it was clear this lad was a tough nut, I got a warm smile out of him. A huge contrast to his earlier behavior.
At the end of the class, I thanked him for putting his trust in me. His mom came to pick him up and enquired about his behaviour. She seemed very hesitant in her enquiry, as if she expected bad news. When I explained what had happened she grew very angry with her son. I suggested she calm down and praise him for turning things around. It was then that she informed me that her son had been expelled from three schools and was under special needs, that he’d been dismissed from every out-of-school activity he’d taken part in and that she’d bought him to my club as a last resort… “for some discipline” in her words.
This led to a long chat as I’d seen something in this young lad that maybe no one else had. I got the sense that he felt totally disconnected from everything and had nothing to engage with. In fact I’d go as far as saying he didn’t yet know how to engage, so I’m guessing he always reacted with aggression. Hence getting expelled from school and thrown out of clubs. It seemed obvious that the ‘discipline’ he’d already received had not been working – so how was even more discipline supposed to work?… Was I supposed to demand that he be and act a certain way and disconnect him from society even more?
I told his mom that with patience, I felt I could connect with her son and get him to engage and hopefully give him some purpose, or at least something he enjoyed doing. She became quite emotional and when she told me that I’m the only one that had given him time and tried to understand him, my job was done. Or was it just beginning? I can understand how she thinks discipline is needed, but I’ve seen many people, especially martial arts teachers, mistake discipline for “it’s my way, or the highway”, or worse still, egotistical bullies who love nothing more than the sound of their own booming voices and demand the utmost respect. Respect can’t be demanded, it must be gained.
The lesson here is that when we meet someone for the first time, we don’t know their story. We have no idea. There’s not aone size fits all solution to every problem. If we can empathise and take the time to go deeper than what we initially see on the surface, we can connect better. We can make positive change.
Maybe try it for yourself next time you become infuriated by someone you meet for the first time, or next time you judge somebody by their appearance. Perhaps wonder to yourself “what’s their story”
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