“I am your father.” - Darth Vader
Man, did that one line shake things up! It’s become so well-known and even cliché now, but when Darth Vader let that little bit of information slip to Luke Skywalker at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, people were shocked! (So was Luke!) Suddenly, with that one line, everything Luke thought he knew had changed. In many ways, it was the culmination of a long journey of discovery that he embarked upon at the beginning of the original Star Wars. Sure, he would learn a few more things in Return of the Jedi (like realizing that he really shouldn’t have kissed Leia!), but this was the turning point for Luke on his hero’s journey.
Recently, I rewatched the films of the original Star Wars trilogy in succession. I couldn’t believe how different Luke was from the beginning of the first movie to his moment of horrifying discovery at the end of the second. He started off as this idealistic young kid who saw everything as black and white… right and wrong. He quickly began to realize that things weren’t so clear cut. He learned from Obi-Wan and Han Solo and Leia that things were more complicated than he had believed. When he finds out that the very representation of the thing he’s been fighting against is his own father, his understanding of the line between good and evil changes quite a bit.
It’s pretty amazing how one day we can be SO sure of something and then the next, everything can change. Of course, it usually doesn’t happen in one big “I am your father” moment. Instead, it tends to happen slowly over time as we learn new things and gain new perspectives. Suddenly, we realize that the things we absolutely knew to be true, might not be.
When I was fresh out of college, I taught high school for three years. When they hired me, I was a 22 year old kid teaching 18 year olds! (Even I questioned the wisdom of this at the time.) I was young and idealistic and fought hard for the things I thought were right. I got pushback from administrators and had no problem standing up for myself and the things I absolutely knew were true. Things seemed so black and white for me. Now, I look back at those times and I realize that I had no concept of nuance or diplomacy. I also see that I didn’t always take the time to try to understand the viewpoints of others. Things weren’t nearly as black and white as I’d believed. (They rarely are.) Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware of that then. It took me getting new experiences in new contexts to become aware that my preconceived notions might need to change.
Today, I’m the same person I was then in many ways. However, I’ve learned and grown much in the same way Luke did on his journey. In the end, he still had that idealism that he started out with, but he was aware that he didn’t know everything and allowed himself to take the knowledge and experiences he had and let them shape his approach to making decisions in the future.
One of the ways that we can be more effective is to be actively looking for those opportunities for learning and growth, instead of waiting for the experiences and knowledge to come to us (or worse, avoiding them altogether!). If we’re aware that we don’t know everything and that we might not have all the information on some things, we can be open to opportunities for discovery. The least effective people around are the ones that just aren't aware that they may have something to learn.
So, what are some steps you can take to make sure you’re self-aware enough to know that you don’t know it all? I’m glad you asked! (Pretend you did.)
- Just always assume there’s room for growth! Any time you think you know everything there is to know about a thing, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be proven wrong at some point.
- When things in a relationship or work situation get difficult and/or you think you’re being treated unfairly, at least consider that it might be you! My basic rule is that if I see a pattern of people being mistreated, then it’s probably a systemic problem. If not, there’s a good chance that I’m the problem and that I may need to make a change! Otherwise, I could move on to something else, but I’ll just take my issues with me.
- Listen to the viewpoints of other people! Now, here’s the tricky thing about this one… you have to actually listen! Put your biases aside and hear what other people have to say about things. You might learn something! Or you may have an opportunity to teach someone something. Either way, you’ll get much further if you’re willing to listen before talking.
- Be willing to let go of your preconceived notions! Our biases come from our upbringings and experiences. Other people have different upbringings and different experiences. Those people will have different perspectives than you do and it’s even possible that you may realize that their viewpoints might be right and yours might be wrong. Or maybe you’ll find somewhere in the middle. My point is, just because your parents or your teachers or your friends taught you to think a particular thing, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s truth.
In the end, Luke Skywalker realized that things aren’t as cut and dry as dark and light. People are more complex than that. Yes… there are Emperor Palpatine’s out there who are pretty much pure evil, but they are in the vast minority. Most people are much more complex than that. Darth Vader was! The Luke Skywalker of Return of the Jedi was still, at his core, the same guy… but he learned to see the nuance and find the good even in one of the greatest bad guys of all time. (Shoot… even Vader had to come to terms with the fact that maybe what he wanted for his son wasn’t what was best for him! Then again, joining the Dark Side probably isn’t best for anyone.)
Being self-aware isn’t easy. It’s something we all have to work and even fight for. Sometimes, that self-awareness can clue us in to the fact that it might be #Time2MoveOn… if not from our circumstances, then possibly from our old ways of thinking.
PS… Just as Yoda spoke of finding balance in The Force, it’s important to find balance in these situations. I’m not saying to just give up on your ideals willy-nilly (always a funny phrase!), I’m simply encouraging us to constantly and critically evaluate them to make sure they still apply.
PPS… I am well aware that I’m a huge nerd. May The Force be with you!