Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Do Or Do Not

Some teachers love to give advice that is not exactly useful. They mean well, and they may even have a perfectly valid idea, but the expression of that idea leaves something to be desired. It either can’t be done, or doing it would not yield the beneficial results intended. One of the most famous examples of this, I believe, comes from that most popular of Star Wars characters, Yoda.

“Do or do not. There is no try.”

What? No try? But I’ve been telling my children since they were old enough to speak, “You have to try,” or, “At least you tried,” or, “You tried your best,” or various renditions on that theme. We all have. That idea is a cornerstone of our culture. Frankly, that line has bothered me a little bit since the first time I watched The Empire Strikes Back way back when. Yoda is a great teacher, and he has such sound advice, but then he goes and throws trying under the bus. What gives?

What gives, in truth, might be context and perspective. As I’ve gotten older and, I hope, a little wiser, the importance of another great quote becomes more evident and I see more and more how it might apply to Yoda’s advice. “Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.” This line, for the three people reading who might not know, was delivered by Ben after Luke confronts him for claiming that Vader had killed Luke’s father, shortly after Luke learned that Vader is his father. Ben explains that, when Anakin fell to the dark side he became a different person, and that person destroyed all that was left of Anakin inside so, from a certain point of view, it was true that Vader killed Anakin. It depends on your perspective.

In the same way, it is true that there is no try from a certain perspective, even though trying is of greatest importance from another perspective. They are not mutually exclusive ideas after all. Keep in mind that Yoda was making his statement before an activity, one that would be thought of as being exceptionally difficult. He was telling a fresh young student to use the Force to levitate a sinking X-Wing Fighter out of the swamp, and that student had responded with “I’ll try,” not with the attitude of “I’ll try my best,” but rather with one of “I’ll try but this will never work.” Luke was not really saying that he was going to try. He was admitting defeat before he had even begun, while using “I’ll try” as a crutch to not be blamed for failing. Context and perspective. Yoda’s statement takes on a whole new meaning when looked at from that angle.

In modern pop psychology, it’s called the power of positive thinking. Whenever you begin something new, especially something new that is difficult or challenging, you have to believe in yourself. Sometimes it is necessary that you believe in yourself completely. “I am not going to try this. I am going to do it.” It is about fixing a goal in your mind and believing in it so completely that you know it is done before you have even begun. It is a positive practice for overcoming obstacles and accomplishing things you might not have thought possible. Don’t let yourself get weighed down by the negative, “I might not succeed.” Instead, focus on the positive, “I am going to knock this out of the park.”

In the context of the movies, and especially in the context of the Force, Yoda was entirely correct. There was no try. If Luke had believed entirely that he could lift the ship then he would have lifted the ship. That’s how the Force works. It’s magic that way. In real life, though, we do need the other side of the coin. We need the rest of the context. Sometimes all the believe in the universe will not make your dreams come true. Then you need to know that truly trying your best is good enough. You did all you could do, and you did it with the right attitude. Just make sure that you’re putting that try in the right place, and not using it to cover up a negative belief. Trying isn’t a crutch. Trying works best for those who believe they will succeed, and works hardly at all for those who believe they will fail. It’s not as magic as Yoda would have it, but it comes pretty close.

So maybe Yoda’s advice wasn’t so far off the mark after all. It just seemed that way to a kid who didn’t understand the whole picture. That actually offers a second lesson here: not understanding something doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s wrong. You may not have enough pieces to see clearly what the puzzle is going to be.

Allow yourself to try, but do it with the right attitude. Do it with the belief that you’re going to succeed, and don’t let negativity weigh you down. You might be amazed at what you can do, if you just believe in yourself.

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