In August my oldest son, David, started taking karate sessions twice a week. Recently he moved from the pee-wee class to a beginner class.
His first night in beginner class he was the youngest by at least two years. He was also at least a good foot shorter than the other participants. The average age of the kids in the class, including his sparring partner, had to be around ten.
David, though, showed no recognition that he’s younger or smaller than the other kids in the class. He went for every move in every activity with whole-hearted enthusiasm.
On that first night, his instructor who told the class to jump as high as they could. Many of the kids, tired and ready for a break, barely moved their feet off the ground.
So he told the class to touch the ceiling with their next jump.
David immediately, and full of true concern, his hand raised in the hair, pops out with, “But, sir, I can’t touch the ceiling.” So, yeah, there’s another difference between six and ten year olds – my newly minted six year old still takes all instructions literally.
I was sitting on the bench in the back of the studio, listening to the other students and parents giggling at David’s comment. I felt embarrassed for my boy who had become the butt of a joke because he doesn’t recognize hyperbole when he hears it.
But then something else happened, something I hadn’t expected. The Master Instructor stopped the class and presented David with a special badge for his uniform.
It reads, “HONESTY.”
David was honest. He recognized his limitation and admitted it without reservation.
Later that night David was also presented with a badge that reads “COMMITMENT.” He’s decided to take the journey to becoming a black belt. The badge represents his decision to make mastery of a martial art one of the goals of his young life. It’s an important decision. It’ll require a lot of hard work and dedication. The instructors made a big show of the presentation of the commitment badge.
But it was the honesty badge that I kept thinking about on the drive home after class that night.
Honesty is such an important skill to master. True honestly, like David showed, involves being able to recognize the “no” in life and accept it, without hiding from it. Dishonesty isn’t just the lies we say, it’s in the emptiness of the words we don’t say. That void is a dangerous illusion of self other than we actually are. David’s honest words, his strong mind, refused to allow that he was something other than he was.
Sure, it’s not a big deal when you’re six and asked to touch a ceiling. But one day it will be. One day it’ll be the friend who assumes he’s okay with the racist remark or the boss who assumes he’ll do more than his share of the work. There’s so many temptations in adult life to allow the assumptions of others to dictate who you are, so many ways you can easily become dishonest with yourself about who you are and what you’re capable of.
I hope he’ll keep that honesty badge close to his heart.
I hope that I keep it close to my own.