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Ideas expressed here are nobody’s.

Thoughts on Karate Kid

Recently a video has surfaced (gone viral) of a young kid, who looks to be about four or five years old attempting to perform that classic cool "Breaking a slab of wood kick move." If you have not yet seen it, here it is:

The lesson of never giving up! from r/aww

On the few times I've seen it posted on Twitter and Reddit, the overwhelming reaction from people is extremely emotional, lots of tears. Even after having watched this a handful of times throughout the week I find myself tearing up every time. It made me stop and think about the video; why is it so special and touching?

I feel like the main element of it is not so much the "try, try, and try again" aspect of it, although same as the proverb, that carries a useful truth, only in the form of parable. The core element of the video is the unjudging, undying support from his peers, the instructor, and the parents in the sidelines. I feel like it is so often that we hold this deep fear of failing, this fear that failure will lead us to loneliness or isolation, and the video touches us by appeasing that. How often in adult life do we find ourselves utterly and completely alone in our struggles? How commonly our shortcomings surface to frustrate us, and in that frustration catalyze our loneliness?

The display of affection and support in the video gives us a glimpse of what we could have, if only we did not tax others so heavily, if only the incentive structures of adult life weren't so twisted. The fact that no one laughs, even for a split second, even when he cries or seems to lose strength seem almost uncanny for us. How wonderful would it be if our failures could be met with comprehension, love, and support rather than with shame, pressure, and negativity.

While watching the video I was immediately transported to one of the strongest memories of my childhood, one of taking a math test in early middle school. To this day I am still not sure whether I was terrified of mathematics because I wasn't good at it, or whether I wasn't good at mathematics because I was terrified of it, but nonetheless my reality as a kid was surrounded by an overwhelming fear of failing, and my math class was the center point of that anxiety, which was exacerbated by my mother's punitive approach to incentive. I remember taking this midterm, and feeling utterly and completely stupid, it made little sense to me and I couldn't handle it; I remember the thoughts of all the things I'd have to endure for doing poorly on it circling my mind: I'd be grounded, I'd lose computer privileges, I wouldn't be able to see my friends until the next exam I excelled at, and so on.

As the clock ticked these thoughts grew into a cacophony too large for me to handle it, and I broke down crying. I was dragged out of the room by the teacher and sent to the principals' office, and I don't remember much of what happened afterwards. What I do remember were the laughs of all my classmates, and the shaming and ridicule I had to endure for that throughout the next few terms in school. It took me years to regain my academic confidence, it only happened when I was 19; some 14 years after the event.

Watching the support of his peers, and their excitement upon his success, made me think deeply about how differently my life would be today had I received that during my childhood, and during my failures. On the same note it caused me to think about how much better my childhood would have been had I had supportive and understanding parents1. I would only feel like anyone had my back towards the end of high school, and I did not feel that with my parents until college.

It is ironic in some ways that it is in failure that we find ourselves the most alone, whereas it is in success that we feel loved and supported. We should strive to be better, to support those around us in their moments of weakness as well as in their triumphs; to help our children gain confidence, something many of us only experience far too late in life. We all deserve to try, try, and try again without fear.

  1. My parents would become increasingly supportive as I grew. Now, at 21, they are my bedrock; I am only able to take the risks I do today and to chase my objectives because of them, and because of how they've grown in this regard. I cannot be thankful enough to them for the safety they have given me in the past years. [return]