When I was a beginning ballroom dancer, a teacher warned us. She said, “We’re going to teach you stuff as a beginner that will be considered wrong later.” Some of us were outraged. Why couldn’t we be taught the ‘right technique’ now? Wasn’t it going to be more difficult to learn something wrong and have to unlearn it later?
As I became more experienced and started to compete, I would notice that other competitors had mastered things like arm stylings that I wanted to learn. I asked my teacher why we hadn’t covered those things. He said, “We had other fish to fry…”
Although I’ve never completely gotten over my skepticism about the order in which we are taught technique, I have been able to reframe it in the following way.
If you’re learning something completely new, there’s often a sense of overwhelm at what’s involved. You need a teacher to prioritize what’s most important. What’s most important often seems to be the simplest things. For instance, in ballroom, this would include learning to completely shift weight from one foot to the other when you take a step. Sounds very simple. However, very few beginners (and not that many experienced amateurs) do it. For several years, I thought I was doing it, but I really wasn’t. Unless a dancer does this fully, it’s harder to execute steps cleanly, to stay on the beat or to move smoothly, and it’s harder for your partner to lead or follow.
For beginning students, teachers will encourage students to adopt a marching rhythm because a march is one of the ways of walking where people most easily understand fully transferring weight from one foot to the other. Other teachers use an image of leaping from one lily pad to another. Whether marching or leaping, these techniques/images often lead people in a beginning dance situation to look like they’re lurching around.
In ballroom, no one wants to look like they’re marching, leaping or lurching. It looks wrong, but learning complete transfer of weight is the foundation for good dancing later. The truth is that complete transfer of weight needs to be exaggerated early on so it can become seamless later.
Similarly, if you’re teaching a child, you’re likely to simplify some concepts initially. You might teach a very young child it’s bad to lie. But later on, you might also teach them the concept of a white lie-the idea that sometimes you don’t tell the entire truth to save someone’s feelings, such as muting your most honest response when someone is wearing something s/he obviously loves that you think is really unappealing.
On the other hand, if a person has been squashed for their whole life, and has sublimated most of their feelings in white lies, finally expressing an unpopular opinion may be a necessary step in their empowerment process. Even the truth about truth shifts and changes throughout life.
In this age of so-called ‘fake news’ and alarming headlines, it’s becoming increasingly important to take a breath and to take the long view, without rushing to judgment. I was recently reminded of this with a viral video on social media of a man at a baseball game who apparently intercepted, (and kept) a fly ball that looked like it was going to be caught by a small boy. The video and the man were roundly condemned. Later, it was learned that the man had caught a number of balls at that game that he’d given away to all around him. The boy’s mother made a statement in the man’s defense, adding that the little boy had the best day of his life. That particular video only captured a single moment in which the man had kept a ball for himself.
And last weekend I attended a hearing on raising the minimum wage. Quite a few people were critical of the timing for the hearing, saying that the meetings were held at times that most couldn’t attend. But the organizers had arranged for multiple meetings on different dates/ times of day. There was a supposition of intent to exclude, when no such intent was meant.
The truth is that it’s easy to judge something as wrong in the moment and on the surface of things. And it’s hard for anyone who isn’t in the thick of any situation to really know what’s going on. And perceptions of truth change over time, as we grow and get more experience. That’s why truth shifts.
May we pursue our paths, giving others and ourselves the benefit of the doubt, knowing that it’s rare to know the entire truth about most situations,