It’s one of the most well-known stereotypes of Canadians: we’re polite. We apologize. We’re doormats. What can I say? There is, to some extent, a ring of truth to the stereotype.
At aikido last night, sensei was telling me about the issues that the older students had when they first began practicing. He referred to one student affectionately as being rather like a black hole when she first began; another one needs to learn to be less aggressive and more relaxed; someone else has had to deal with their length and extension. I thought I could guess pretty well what my biggest weakness is, but I really wanted to hear it from a teacher’s perspective and to get his insight, so I asked him. My biggest issue? I’m too timid, too tentative. “I think you’re afraid you’ll hurt someone,” one of the other students offered when sensei asked the other students for their input.
How true it is. While the concept seems ridiculous (how could anyone as little as me possibly inflict damage on someone else?) I think that my biggest barrier is simply learning to let go and realize that people can take it. Considering that it doesn’t matter your age, size, or gender when it comes to aikido, it is surprising just how much damage I could potentially do to a person. Just by pressing the right spot on a person’s hand, I can bring someone to the floor (theoretically. Sometimes I have to keep on pressing a couple dozen times until I hit exactly the right spot. Eventually it works!). With just the right momentum and rhythm, I can use another person’s force to pull them off balance. If you know your technique, you suddenly become a very powerful and dangerous person.
I’m not so afraid to be aggressive with the men that I practice with, maybe because they’re all about twice as big as me. But the women are nearer to my size and although I know that they have been practicing much longer than I have and clearly they know exactly what to do even if I did manage to hurt them, I’m still afraid to be too aggressive.
I don’t think that this is a healthy attitude to take in any situation in life, especially because it drives me crazy when other people treat me this way. I get impatient because I know that I’m stronger than that. I want to learn and make mistakes and the only way that I can do that is if they come at me full force.
Canadians are known for being passive, but does this sometimes hinder progress? How many people stay in relationships long after the love has died out just because they’re unwilling to hurt the other person by admitting the truth? How often do we tell white lies to protect people so that they won’t get upset- about anything?
Growing up, I remember that it was always the kids who had been “tied to their mother’s apron strings”, so to speak, that had the worst allergies. They got sick a lot because their immune systems weren’t strong; they hadn’t been built up because there was too much bubbled padding around them. They hadn’t been exposed to viruses or bacteria. Their parent’s fear for their safety hindered the children later in life so that they wound up getting sick more often than they would have if they’d been exposed to a little mud.
If we can get over our fear of hurting other people, we will both come out stronger for it. Both parties can learn from the mistakes once they’ve been addressed. We can only correct the issues once we’re made aware of them, and sometimes the only way that we can be made aware of them is to make the mistakes. It’s healthy to strike out with confidence and to know that people are strong and resilient. We can handle the blows. It helps us to grow.
Do you have difficulties with this? Are you sometimes a little bit too nice, too gentle? Can you dish out constructive criticism? And can you handle that criticism? I firmly believe that we really need constructive criticism from others to make progress, because sometimes we can’t see the issues ourselves. We can all benefit from a little introspection.