I’ve been home sick for a couple of days, and I’m feeding my son breakfast before getting him off to kindergarten and then collapsing on the couch. He loves it. He’s taking the opportunity to ask me questions (“how would you blow up a planet?”), and talk to me, and show off his progress reading.
“Dad,” he asks, “what did Yoda mean when he told Luke that size matters not when your ally is the Force?”
“Well, son,” I say, trying to use this as a teaching moment, “it’s all about how he lifted the X-wing. Did he use his muscles, and drag it out of the swamp?”
“No,” my son said.
“You’re right. He used the Force.” I leaned forward, just a little. “And he meant that, if you believe in yourself and believe you can succeed, you can do anything you want.”
He considered that, then last ones at me. “Dad?”
“Would you rather fly an X-wing, or the Death Star?”
This is going to be a little different, isn’t it?
Yep. Believe it or not, this isn’t a science blog. It’s a blog dedicated to trying to answer my son’s questions. It’s just that, most of the time, he asks questions that I can answer with science.
Size matters not
This really isn’t one of those questions. I mean, sure. There are probably studies on confidence and how it generates success. But that’s not the point, not really.
My son is six. To him, the world is a huge, exciting place filled with wonder and possibility and excitement. And, thanks to him, I’m being reminded that the world is filled with wonder and possibility and excitement. So, as I see it, it’s my job to encourage him and teach him and help him take advantage of everything the world offers.
That starts with confidence.
See, I’m well aware that there are things that are by definition impossible. But I’m also aware that, all too often, we look at things that are merely difficult and declare them “impossible”. “I can’t get out of debt.” “My family can’t make it on one income.” “I’ll never get in shape.” “I’ll never be able to retire.” A million fears become a million reasons to never try.
I don’t want my son to learn that. Not from me, anyway. “Dad,” he’ll say, “I’m going to build a robot!” Or he’ll declare to me that he’s going to build a speeder bike, or a lightsaber, or buy a house next to us so we won’t get lonely, or that he’s going to fly. And it would be easy to accidentally crush his dreams, in the name of “teaching” him. Instead, I try to respond with this: “Cool! That might be hard, though. How should we start?”
“So certain are you. Always with you it cannot be done. Hear you nothing that I say?”
For the record, we have never built a robot, or a speeder bike, or a lightsaber that works outside our imaginations. That’s mostly due to the fact that sticks and rocks and Legos and paper aren’t the optimal components for such things. But we’ve spent hours working on them, and chasing each other with them, and playing and learning.
My son’s got plenty of time to learn that some things may very well be actually impossible. Right now, though, he’s learning a more important lesson: if you fail, and you still want to do it, try doing it a different way.
“Size matters not, when your ally is the Force.” Sure, I can’t teach my son to move an X-wing with his mind. But I can teach him that it can be moved, and that he can use his mind to figure out the way. And I can teach him to try again, and try something different, if he doesn’t succeed. And to remember that you don’t fail unless you give up.
In the process, maybe I’ll learn it again for myself.