Don’t hit the hand that helps you

31 Mar

A couple of weeks ago, we had a night at the dojang for students to complete their test requirements from their recent color belt promotion testing. In all six cases students had a required board break left to perform which they had not been able to do at their test. In particular, one young student, Nicholas, had the challenge of completing a combination kick break, breaking one board in front of him with one designated kick and then turning and breaking another board behind him with a different designated kick.

Nicholas was testing for red belt, the belt just before junior black belt, so the combination had to be “bang/bang”, front break, turn, rear break, with no stopping or mid-way practicing. This required a bit of focus on the task at hand, and given that Nicholas is autistic and prone to anxiety, it was a challenge for him to stay relaxed enough and to focus enough to get it done. His energy, attention and feet can fly away in the general direction of his target, but not be focused enough to make proper contact. However, his Taekwondo has helped him settle down and get down to it, so he was ready for the challenge; he completed the combo break on his last allowed attempt!

There was only one hand hit that night during the various attempts; the student’s foot hit the hand of the board holder, at the edge of the board, rather than the middle of the board. (Even with a kid kicking, it can hurt!) After some pushups of contrition, the student can try again, if they have any attempts left. What’s interesting in such instances is that the student is often likely to hit the hand AGAIN, rather than the middle of the board. This is because once they hit that hand, that is what they are thinking about. They are focusing on the hand even though they THINK they are focusing on the middle.

What you focus on determines what you miss.

That’s a quote from Brian McLaren, an Evangelical pastor and author of several books; I heard him cite it in a recent podcast episode of On Being. He attributes the quote to one of his mentors, and applies it in regards to reading the Bible and the things we focus on when doing so. He explains:

“And I was taught to read every verse in the Bible to find out who’s going to heaven and who’s going to hell. But when you start noticing other things, you start looking for other things, the Bible becomes a different book. And I think Jesus becomes a very different person and the Christian faith can become a very different faith.”

So, for instance, when I read the Bible focusing on judgement, I miss the full messages of forgiveness and compassion. When I focus on defending myself, I miss Thou Shalt Not Kill. When I focus on my hurt or on retribution, I miss Turn the Other Cheek and Seventy times Seven Forgiveness. When I focus on me, I miss how to help the team work more effectively. When I focus on larger company concerns, I miss  individuals’ needs. When I focus on myself, my wants, my needs, my perspectives, I miss those of others, close myself off from them.

I realized a few years ago that I had begun to focus on the things about my wife that I could be critical of, that I could see as shortcomings, imperfections and annoyances. I had lost focus on her gifts, on the most beautiful aspects of her, on her qualities that make her so unique, special, wonderful, effective. I was too focused on my own struggles, wants, needs, fears and I was missing the best of her. Thankfully, I was able to change my focus such that I could again recognize and value all of the good things about her, and it’s like I fell in love again, amazed (as I had originally been) with my chosen partner. The same Bonnie — the same board and holder — were in front of me, but I was missing the sweet spot.

Particularly as a Christian, I think we have to challenge our human nature of having a focus that comes from places of fear, hate, selfishness, want, retribution or security, and move to a focus framed by openness, compassion, help, forgiveness and risk. We can’t pray that “Thy will be done on earth” while we are running around preparing to nuke each other (whether literally or figuratively: think co-workers, family members). Human nature, human sin if you will, diverts our focus, even while we think we are focusing on the right things.

We often think we are focusing on the middle of the board but we are  focusing on the hand.

If we focus on certain things, we miss so much that’s right in front of us. (Perhaps the Kingdom of Heaven is, in fact, right at hand.) Focus on the right place and you overcome the challenges. You move on to bigger and better. You experience more joy, more growth, more happiness.  You don’t stagnate or quit. You don’t hit the other’s hand and hurt them; rather, you both share in the joy of the victory. (And, you do less pushups!)

[I’m interested to hear where you, or others you observe, tend to often focus and what is missed because of that. Something at home? Work? Does it relate to human interaction, or is it something external, such as something in sports or work? Please share. Leave a comment!]

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