I Grew, I Learned, I Showed Them All
It is of interest to note that while some dolphins are reported to have learned English — up to fifty words used in correct context — no human being has been reported to have learned dolphinese.
– Carl Sagan, American astronomer, astrophysicist, author (1934-1996)
I disappointed my father because I was poor at sports. As a result of brain and nerve damage at birth, doctors had predicted that I would never run and would not likely ever walk without a prosthetic device such as a cane or brace. The fact that I learned to walk and run without a limp did not impress him.
I learned through experience that I could not keep up with my peers in ice hockey (my father’s best sport). Only after I quit hockey in my mid teens did I learn about problems at birth that would impair my abilities both physically and mentally. I learned that I never had a chance at equality in sports.
I disappointed my father because I was unable to become an avid fan of sports. It took decades for me to learn that a chemical problem in my brain caused me to endure devastating stress when I became excited while watching a game. He took my cousin (a quarterback on his high school football team, but a young man with a bad attitude) to a Grey Cup game (the Canadian equivalent of the US Superbowl) because he thought I wouldn’t be interested. He didn’t even ask me when he was given free tickets. My father had died in later years before I learned of my brain chemical problem and tried to learn strategies to combat it. My maternal grandfather had the same problem, but no one took notice.
I disappointed my mother because I was not good at school. I just got by. As many times as she read on my report cards that I was “not working to [my] potential”, neither she nor any of my teachers ever twigged to the fact that my poor performance was because I could not read and a brain impairment meant that I had trouble remembering anything for exams. To them I was just “lazy.”
I disappointed my mother, an excellent and entertaining pianist, when I studied piano for many years yet was unable to reach her level of competence because I was physically uncoordinated (small motor muscle problems) and could not read music. I learned to be a great appreciator of recorded and live music through my experience with them, but this did not impress. I could have become an orchestra director, except that I could not read music fast enough.
I disappointed my greatest supporter among my high school teachers. As head of the music department he guided me into leads in music activities and musical plays and delighted when I entered the Faculty of Music for my first year at University of Toronto. He would not speak to me when I left the faculty program after one year because I was physically and mentally unable to do the work. I learned that I had a head for directing music, which benefitted and excited many children over the years in choirs and musicals when I was a teacher.
I disappointed most of my immediate superiors in my jobs. They could not understand why I did not pick up on how to do the jobs easily, though none of them made the slightest attempt to show me what I needed to know, not even once. Years later I learned to teach others what I knew because I understood how helpless it felt to be given responsibilities to do something but not the tools to do them with.
I disappointed the principals of the schools where I taught. I directed my teaching attention in different ways from other teachers because I thought it important to raise a whole child–including social and emotional skills and development–rather than to just each to a curriculum. I was often in trouble for being “different” in my methods. As it happened, my methods tended to be five years ahead of their time, as five years after I got into trouble in several cases the school board began to insist on all teachers teaching the way I had–because the “new” methods were in use in California, not because I had succeeded with so many children.
I disappointed my first wife–a very good teacher and a reader–because I never read books. She didn’t understand that I was functionally illiterate due to my childhood problems. She was not impressed that I got a master’s degree from the University of Toronto although I was functionally illiterate and never read a book the whole way through. While I muddled my way through teaching and she was a resource teacher–a teacher whose sole purpose was to help other teachers–in a different part of the school board, she never offered to give me the slightest assistance. She divorced me because she thought I lacked potential.
I disappointed some of my staff in the small business I ran for several years. They resented my insistence on quality and consistency, while they wanted to do things the easiest way, and they begrudged my coaching them to do their jobs in the best ways possible. Most left my employment to take jobs in places where working conditions were far worse. I learned that quality standards mean a great deal to many people who want to get their money’s worth when they buy something. In turn, I learned how to look for quality and durability in my purchases as well.
I disappointed my neighbours for many years before I moved a couple of years ago. One group wanted me to drink and take drugs on weekends, which I would not do. Another wanted me to ignore local and provincial laws to give them favours. I knew that these were wrong for me, so my wife and I researched to learn what we believe is the best community in our country in which to live. We were right. Life has never been better for us since we moved.
Along the way I learned that disappointment is part of life. People will always be disappointed in us when we don’t do what they want us to do and when we refuse to do things the wrong way. I have even had my life threatened twice. I learned that I can easily avoid and ignore people who are just plain bad for me.
I learned that to gain the respect of many people you need to be good at something. It doesn’t really matter what so long as it can impress them. Everybody can be good at something. If they learn at what they can be good with the help of others who care for and about them, it will come sooner than it did for me. We can all help by teaching that lesson to children.
I began my lifelong learning mission at the age of 15. Until I learned to read better at age 44, I listened a great deal. When I began to read, I read things that made me more knowledgeable. Eventually my “encyclopedic knowledge” frightened some people. I learned that I could teach the ones who cared about what I knew and ignore the ones who refused to learn.
In recent years I have learned that helping others (the Dalai Lama calls it “compassion”–I am not a Buddhist) is the secret to happiness and to finding our purpose in life. May you be blessed with this knowledge as well.
Bill Allin is the author of Turning it Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to give children what they need rather than just what the school curriculum offers or what they can learn from television and video games.
Learn more at http://billallin.com