Saturday, January 14, 2012

Respecting Limitations

It’s fascinating to watch my son discover his limitations – both physical and imposed.  He turns one this weekend and can confidently walk on any flat surface.  I find it amusing, however, that a slight incline, such as the driveway, still poses a challenge to his mobility.  He can climb the stairs, but he doesn’t understand how to navigate downwards.  Whenever his eagerness overtakes his ability, he inevitably tumbles face first towards the floor.  Often his mother and I are right there to break his fall, especially on the stairs, but there are too many times when we aren’t close enough to stop him from adding a fresh bruise or scrape to his little body.  How many times, I wonder, must he collide violently with his physical limitations before he learns to respect them?

At the same time, we’re beginning to teach him the word “no.”  Lately, the most frequent application for this lesson comes when he opens the DVD cabinet.  Early on, we allowed him to open it and pull out the DVDs because it was adorable to watch.  Then when he started chewing and stepping on them, we decided to nix this behavior.   Sometimes he listens, and sometimes he stubbornly disobeys.  The point being, though, that while he is capable of accomplishing a certain act, we are imposing limitations by saying no.

Unfortunately, these two types of limitations have a convergence.  Around our house, it looks primarily like an electrical outlet.  Now, before you get worried, nothing has happened yet, but here’s the rub.  His curiosity continuously draws him, like a gravitational pull, to finger each socket his eyes land on.  We faithfully tell him no, and when he disobeys, we physically remove him from the temptation.  It’s very possible, however, that one day he will ignore our imposed limitations and quite literally be shocked to discover he has overstepped his bounds, and tragically so.

Observing this play out with my son, I’m startled by the ramifications for my own life.  Too many times I arrogantly rebel against my limitations.  I drink more than my body can handle.  I eat more than I should.  I stay up late too many nights in a row.  There are physical consequences for these actions that I cannot avoid, no matter how often I try.  Likewise, I drive faster than is legal.  I share information that was meant to be a secret.  I procrastinate.  And there are legal, relational and professional consequences for violating these imposed parameters.

A lot of times I manage to skate by with only minor consequences.  I push through my limits only to suffer a speeding ticket or a hangover or an awkward apology.  Sadly, this type of tolerable fallout seldom convinces me to respect my bounds.  It would seem, after all, that the only difference between my son and me is our thirty-year age difference.

Oddly enough, it’s by observing him that I am learning to have greater respect for my own limitations.  I think 2012 is a good year to shut my mouth before I lose a friendship, increase my professionalism before I lose my job, and pay better attention to my wife before I lose her heart.  And that’s just for starters.  So pay attention, my son.  Perhaps I can spare you a hard lesson or two.

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