Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Juggling Courageously

Juggler's World, Winter 1989-90
Juggling Courageously
by Barrett L. Dorko

How many times have you heard - "You're a juggler? Wow! You must really be coordinated!"
Despite my skills, I have always felt slightly uneasy about this. I mean, I don't play the piano or the guitar. Athletically I'm average for most parts. I wouldn't put "really coordinated" on my resume or a job application.

Recently I spent a couple of hours teaching juggling at a local festival. Like many of you, I watched the children race toward me, eager to try and thrilled with the least little progression of their skills. Their parents hung back, watchful and happy for the kids, but slightly uneasy. There was noting to indicate that these lessons were not available to them as well. Still, they stood there, using their age and past failures as an excuse for not trying.

It struck me that juggling is not essentially an act of coordination; it is an act of courage.
In a landmark psychological study, Barbara Brown discovered that the vast majority of anxiety we experience arises from "anticipated interpersonal disapproval." The fear of appearing foolish or inadequate can paralize someone who is ordinarily active, outgoing and successful. Think about how learning to juggle creates the appearance of foolishness and inadequacy. No wonder the adults hesitate to try.

At a typical meeting of the Rubber City Jugglers it's easy to tell the new members from the veterans. The new ones are scared while the "jugglers" display the courage necessary to attempt new and potentially unsuccessful acts. Using this criteria, the child who delights in the act of the first throw is at that point every bit the juggler that I am. No one would call the child coordinated. But I know we share a bond. We are amoing those who face failure and the appearance of inadequacy over and over again. In this sense we are couageous and we reap the benefits of that behaviour - higher self-esteem and the admiration of others. Does the audience realise this? Of course! Don't they applaud the loudest when we do somthing that appears dangerous, even though it doesn't require the skill needed for other tricks?

The implications for teaching juggling with this in mind are clear. Carlo and Gelb both advocates that the beginner "freeze" instead of chasing misses. Learning theory may explain the effectiveness of this in one way, but it is also evident that not being forced to chase your props around the room cuts down on the appearance of foolishness. This makes the high percentage of early drops easier to swallow.

The next time you teach another person, or learn something new yourself, think of the courage it takes to try something new and invite failure into your life. Praise your students for bravery before thay actually learn the trick. They'll be more likely to stick with it, and so will you. One day you may even hear, "You're a juggler? Wow! You must be really brave!"