Columnists Features

A fish is not stupid

SPIDER’S WEB with CHEELA CHILALA
While Albert Einstein, the German theoretical physicist, is best known for his inventive genius, he is also appreciated for his quotable quotes, one of which says, “…If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
There are two problems captured by the quote. First, judging the fish by its ability to climb a tree and, second, the fish believing that it is stupid simply because it is unable to climb a tree.
A fish is neither designed nor meant to climb trees. It is a water creature with capacity to swim. It is therefore not only unfair but also wrong to measure its abilities and level of intelligence on the basis of how well it can climb a tree. A fish is not a tree-climber such as a monkey.
Sometimes we fail to appreciate some people’s abilities and skills, let alone levels of intelligence, because we use the wrong means to evaluate them. We are busy expecting the fish to climb trees. If, for instance, a person is good in electronics, why should we judge them by their ability to, say, prepare pizza? Would it make sense to condemn a doctor for failing to keep good financial records when what he knows best is medicine?
This mistake is quite common with parents. It is very easy to make your own child feel like they are the dullest in the community by expecting them to become what you are, even when they have no interest in your field of study and, in fact, may not even have the skills necessary for success in that field. The fact that you find maths easy does not mean your child will also find it easy; or the fact that you are an engineer does not mean your child will also excel in engineering.
I remember how frustrated I used to feel sometimes helping my kids do their homework. I could not understand why they could not handle what I thought were ‘simple’ tasks. Then it dawned on me that I was being unfair: the work looked simple to me because I already did it at some point in my school life and have moved on to tougher challenges, but for them, at their level, with the amount of knowledge they had, the work was difficult. I realised I had to change my attitude and expectations.
We should be careful how we assess others because we might make them feel worthless and incapable when we are assessing them using the wrong measuring rod.
The bigger mistake, though, is not evaluating the fish by its ability to climb a tree, but the fact that the fish would think itself stupid for failing to climb a tree. The point is this: if you allow people to judge you by how well you are able to handle challenges outside your area of expertise, you are making a grave mistake.
It is even more disastrous, though, if you are a fish but dream of climbing trees, perhaps because you think it is great to do what the monkey does. Indeed, some people have spent all their lives trying to do things outside their area of competence and, after failing, they despise themselves and think they are stupid. It is possible to be a fish out of the water, spending all your time, effort and resources trying to climb trees. You may like the idea of becoming an engineer, but if you struggle with maths, how can you fulfill your dream? If you are good in agriculture, why do you want to struggle running a shop when you can excel in farming?
If you want to be successful in life, then pursue what you can do best and what you know best; if you force yourself to do things for which you lack the capacity, you will live a very frustrated life. Be what you are and do what you are and you will be successful.
cheelafkc@yahoo.co.uk

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