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Standing Out From The Crowd

Chris and I were up at 4:45 a.m. this morning so that we would make it to a kata competition that began at 8:00 a.m.

We wanted to support a sixteen year old friend who was competing in the judo national championships so we were up and at ’em a lot earlier than our bodies wanted to rise and shine.

I’m assuming that you’re wondering what kata is? I sure didn’t know until I watched Elizabeth compete. Kata is a Japanese word that describes a detailed choreographed pattern of movements performed either solo or in pairs. It was fascinating to watch this morning.

Elizabeth stands out from the crowd. She started taking judo lessons in  the upper room of an old church in a tiny town, so small that if you blink, you’ve missed it.  Slowly and diligently, she has persevered.  She now has her brown belt…and well…you don’t want to mess with her. Elizabeth is unique, pursuing something she’s good at and succeeding at it. But no one really understands this secret pursuit and Elizabeth seems fine with that – she pretty much swims upstream when it comes to extra-curricular activities…..and life.

I respect her willingness to be different and to be misunderstood.  She doesn’t want to be a cookie cutter teenager.

Watching Elizabeth reminded me of a blog that I read this week. It’s about conforming.

In 1967, an experiment was published in the periodical, Progress in Primatology. In that experiment, researchers took five monkeys and placed them in a room with a banana hanging from the ceiling, and a ladder placed under the banana.

It is true that monkeys like bananas, so when the first monkey attempted to climb the ladder to get the banana and eat it, he was sprayed with cold water. Not only was he sprayed, but the other four monkeys were sprayed with cold water as well..

Monkeys apparently dislike being sprayed with cold water more than they like bananas, and so when the monkeys stopped trying to retrieve the banana, the researchers replaced one of the monkeys with a new monkey.

Now this new monkey sees the banana and guess what? – he immediately starts to climb the ladder. Only before he can get past the first step, the other monkeys jump on him and beat him up. Of course, the new monkey doesn’t know why he’s been beat up because he’s never been sprayed, but he quickly learns not to go for the banana.

Once the new monkey has learned his lesson, the researchers replaced another one of the original monkeys with another new monkey.  Guess what happened? The new monkey goes for the banana, and the other monkeysjump on him and beat him up. Only this time, the first new monkey also in beating up the second new monkey.  He doesn’t know why but he’s quick to do what all the other monkeys are doing.

Once the second monkey has learned his lesson, the researchers replace a third monkey, then the fourth, and finally all five monkeys have been replaced.  None of the monkeys tried to get the banana anymore, but they didn’t know why. None of the new monkeys had been sprayed, so they didn’t know the history of why going for the bananas was dangerous.  All of them simply gave up, and they didn’t know why.

Sound familiar? What an amazing picture of the pressure to conform.

It’s refreshing to meet people who know who they are and strive to be their very best. Judy Garland once said,  “Always be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else.”   I like that…and I’m pretty sure that Elizabeth would too.

Congrats, Elizabeth…it was an honor to watch you “kata away!” You are beautiful…just the way you are.


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