"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
December 18, 2014
Missing the Mark
by Hannah Bird

In the countless hours I have spent observing ballet classes, rehearsals and performances I have learned what I consider one of the most important lessons of my life -- if you insist that you know now, you will never know later.

We can see who will be great years before training and talent and anatomy come together. We can see who will be a great dancer because the first skill of dancing is being teachable.

Really, it's the first skill of life.

If a dancer slurs her steps and argues that she does no such thing when corrected, she will never stop. One can only correct deficiencies one has. The rejected correction becomes yet another brick between the learner and knowledge.

But it is so instinctive. We want to defend ourselves. We want so badly not to be wrong. It is humorous and exasperating and heartbreaking to argue with a ballerina about where she is standing.

But I have seen it. A girl was told she had crossed too far. She shouldn't pass the blue mark. "I didn't" she said. Her denial did not change the fact that at that exact moment both of her feet were well past the blue mark.

It surprised no one when she overshot the blue mark again during the performance. Instead of learning where to go, she had instead chosen to learn that she had nothing to learn.

I wonder why we are so terrified of being wrong. We are even terrified of not knowing. But it is demonstrably impossible to know everything. In a perfect world we would collaborate. We would cobble together our strengths and weaknesses. We would make ourselves wiser by asking others, by choosing to be led.

But this is not a perfect world. It is a world full of pride. And talk radio. No matter what you believe you can find someone to validate it right this minute on the internet. You don't need to struggle or wonder or be.....


Surely your opinion and experience is just as good as anyone's. Right.

So I watch suburban white people on my Facebook page explain what it means to be an urban African American man. We want to defend our points of view and we can't defend opinions if we don't know. So we decide we know.

I wrote an article about some of the heartbreaking consequences of excessive focus on modesty. That article got right up several noses and the debate was lively. In several pages it had ceased to be lively and become fractious.

The women who had been discussing the consequences of how we teach modesty wandered off. There were many more pages of men debating the issue. These are the loveliest of men. They are some of my favorite people. But the experience that needed to change was one they hadn't had. And they couldn't hear me.

So it will not change.

Because we tell ourselves that we have had that experience. We tell ourselves that there was that one time with the thing and that is basically the same. We find one outlier that validates our opinion and share it loudly while ignoring the fact that we just don't know.

Early in my life, I got a tremendous gift. I wish I could share the lessons. But not the gift. The gift was, I failed. Spectacularly.

There wasn't even wiggle room to pretend that at least I was a good person and had just made mistakes. I was a bad person doing bad things. I was wrong. I was the kind of wrong that means you have to start your whole self over. I couldn't be afraid of being wrong when it was all I was.

It wasn't the end of the world, though it felt that way at the time. It was the beginning. Being that wrong let me not know so many things. So that I could learn.

But still, I was no help when my sisters got divorced because I thought I understood things that I most assuredly did not. I said a smug thing to my baby sister that made her cry for years and was too ignorant and small to know I said it. I had no idea that my academically advanced nephew would get to spend his life trying to explain to people that yes he is black but no he does not play basketball.

I still get to be wrong. Maybe you do too. I still get to not know.

We don't have to stay there.

A few weeks after I dropped my daughter at college she called me. I could hear she was very worried. Her roommate was well and truly scandalized to be sharing a room with a Mormon. In a mind-bender that only the certitude of youth could provide, the roommate announced she did not care to live with a bigot.

"Mom," my kid asked, "Have you seen me do or say anything racially bigoted or homophobic?" My mother hackles raised, I assured my angel baby that I certainly had not and began to defend her when she broke in -- "Oh. I wanted to check because that would be awful. I was worried maybe I had."

She just wanted to know, even if she was wrong.

It is that easy to look down and see if our feet are past the mark.

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About Hannah Bird

I am me. I live at my house with my husband and kids. Mostly because I have found that people get really touchy if you try to live at their house. Even after you explain that their towels are fluffier and none of the cheddar in their fridge is green.

I teach Relief Society and most of the sisters in the ward are still nice enough to come.

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